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  • ROLLING STOCK

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    Stash's 1980s subway car art with photos directly from the artist.

    Born and raised in Brooklyn, Stash began painting the New York City Subway as a teenager during the 1980s, alongside artists including ZEPHYR.

    Original shots from the time are highly prized, coming as they do from the time before cameraphones, when film would need to be developed by the chemist.

    Hear Stash talk about the time and the shots in his audio-visual interview below.

     

  • Spray for the Wicked – Stash Interviewed

     

    Stash is a bona fide New York graffiti legend. He painted trains with ZEPHYR in the 80s, and exhibited alongside Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat aged only 17. His ‘Training Pad’ sketch book, featuring outlines of subway trains for writers to practice their tags on at home before venturing into the night, is cherished by aficionados. Creating high-impact lifestyle design pieces is as much a part of his artistic identity as exhibiting canvases. This approach has resulted in a number of hugely successful collaborations with brands such as Leica, Nike, A Bathing Ape, Burton and Casio.

    We asked Stash to talk about five key themes, works or projects from his resumé. He chose his early years painting NY 80s subway trains, a collaboration with K2 Skis and Snowboards, his pieces made using subway maps, an unusual mural for a school in Westchester, and psychedelic canvases from his latest exhibition.

    Browse Stash’s Krylon Project, an extensive selection of screen prints, editions on wood and uniques, in our webstore now. Follow him on Instagram: @mr_stash.

  • Faith in the Power of Vandalism

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    Photo by John Narr, the photographer of The Faith of Graffiti 

     

    Norman Mailer was one of the 20th Century's literary greats. Amongst his achievements was the first major magazine article and art book about a certain controversial emerging trend… in 1974.

    “Will we learn whether we are angels seeking to articulate the aesthetic of a great god, or demonic cave painters looking to kill the abominable snowman of our dread night? In any event, wherever, whatever, art is not peace but war, and form is the record of that war.”

    This is just one of the many bon mots in author Norman Mailer’s 1974 Esquire essay The Faith of Graffiti. The magazine feature was turned into a book, with accompanying photos from the golden age of vandalism by John Narr, and it would be remiss if I did not mention that we currently have a hardback first edition copy for sale.

     

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    First hardback 1974 edition, available in the Books section now.

     

    Mailer, who died in 2007, is considered one of the more interesting novelists of the 20th Century (but not without controversy, and obviously we’ll go into that). By May 1974 though he was in something of a rut. His first novel, 1948’s The Naked and the Dead, a semi-autobiographical snapshot of GIs at war with Japan, remains his best-selling book. 1959’s The White Negro saw him establish himself as a documenter of the times: in it he invented the concept of ‘the hipster’, a streetwise sage who transcends tired societal norms and provides the template for 1960s living. He was yet to write two of his most famous books: The Fight, a defining reportage of Mohammad Ali and George Foreman’s Rumble in the Jungle boxing match that would happen later that year, or 1980’s critically acclaimed The Executioner’s Song for which he would win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

     

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    Photo by John Narr, the photographer of The Faith of Graffiti 

     

    Born Nachem Malech in New Jersey but raised in Brooklyn to jewish middle class parents, Mailer was, by his own admission, utterly fascinated by the black experience in America. His bluntly acknowledged admiration of black male physicality was criticised by his friend and foil, the celebrated gay black novelist James Baldwin, who felt wary of a new stereotype emerging. But while British author JG Ballard was using science fiction to challenge Anglo-Saxon polite society, Mailer was at least finding inspiration in the real world. Shown the photographs by fellow veteran John Narr that would make up The Faith of Graffiti, Mailer declared that what he was seeing was not subculture, but a populist artistic expression of huge social significance.

     

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    Photo by John Narr, the photographer of The Faith of Graffiti 

     

     

    Mailer’s analysis of the nascent NY scene established tropes that writers wear as a badge of honour today. He pointe out that a tag was “like a logo” and writers were taking back the city from the forces of mediocrity, bureaucracy and consumerism. “You hit your name and maybe something in the whole scheme of the system gives a death rattle. For now your name is over their name, over the subway manufacturer, the Transit Authority, the city administration. Your presence is on their presence, your alias hangs over their scene,” he wrote.

     

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    Photo by John Narr, the photographer of The Faith of Graffiti 

     

    Mailer even notices local divergences of style, quoting young writer AMRL, “also known as BAMA, who has said to a reporter in his own full articulate speaking style, ‘Bronx style is bubble letters, and Brooklyn style is script with lots of flourishes and arrows’.”

     

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    Photo by John Narr, the photographer of The Faith of Graffiti 

     

    He compares graffiti to the best of abstract art, and concludes this undersells it. Mailer saw graffiti as an inevitable push-back against the machine age on behalf of the human spirit: “All the lives ever lived are sounding now like the bugles of gathering armies across the unseen ridge,” Mailer concluded with characteristic, and perhaps necessary, bombast. It was a theme Mailer would run with. In The Fight, he writes that a victory by Ali would be “a triumph for everything which did not fit into the computer: for audacity, inventiveness, even art.”

     

     

    Photo by John Narr, the photographer of The Faith of Graffiti 

     

    Right now in 2021 Mailer is considered ‘problematic’. He linked homosexuality to “the womanisation of America” and loss of any “notion in oneself as a man.” He “abhorred contraception” and stabbed his second wife with a penknife after a disastrous fundraiser for his 1969 New York mayoral campaign. His writing is of the provocatively honest kind: where high-minded, beautiful concepts mix contrast with ugly impulses. In graffiti, he found a process of self-expression that shared his love for the ferocious, the majestic, and the liberated; an art form “screaming through space on an unlinear subway line.”

     

    Buy The Faith of Graffiti from our books section.

  • Mrs Laz Writes…

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    Our columnist ponders the mental health epidemic… and the changing nature of its portrayal on Saturday evening TV. 

    It’s mental health awareness week here in the UK. Those lucky enough to live Stateside get a whole month to ponder their encephalon.

    Like every child of the 1970s and 80s, my understanding of mental health comes largely from Saturday evening TV show The A-Team. ‘Howling Mad’ Murdock is a guru when it comes to shining a light on it. Through his eyes, he’s guiding the viewer through a range of different mental health disorders and various states of mind.

    Mental health professionals don’t want us to confuse mental health with mental illness, so we don’t mistake our mental ‘wellness journey’ with those who have an actual diagnosis. I think all this does is create stigma – a feeling that we don’t want to be associated with those who may suffer from official mental health problems. As if they are ‘Other’. Please, let The A-Team guide us here. Murdock is one of us. Let’s be real; we know we can’t fly out of a mission without Murdock manning the plane. One in four adults in America live with some form of mental illness, and one in five in the UK. With numbers like that why are we hell bent on disassociating ourselves from those who may be mentally unwell?

    We don’t do this with physical illness. Those members of the British population (one in sixteen) affected by diabetes won’t furtively hide insulin injections to conceal their condition from others. And just like diabetics, some people’s mental conditions can be cured. But many will have to learn how to live with illness for the rest of their life. Bear in mind that it is perfectly possible to have good mental health and also have a mental illness.

    Back to Murdock and what he’s given the world. We know a helicopter crash in Vietnam began his passage into mental ill health (opening our eyes to the ravaging effects of PTSD). Most episodes begin with The Face breaking Murdock out of a treatment facility; and Murdock often brings his latest imaginary friends and pets along with him to help him with the team’s capers. Murdock’s character is sensitively drawn. He’s often a figure of humour but not the butt of jokes – there’s a clear distinction. As a child, I was never made to feel afraid of what mental illness could entail largely because of Murdock.

    But where I think we can learn lessons is not necessarily from Murdock himself. It’s from the rest of the A-Team, who treat their comrade with unflinching understanding and compassion. They never view him as anything other than a valid and resourceful, intelligent member of their elite squad. He is supported by the family of friends around him who help him cope without judgement, instead with care and humour, and most importantly never treat him as lesser. He just happens to be the one in four.

    “But what about BA Baracus?” I hear you say? Yes, Mr T wrangles, like any sibling, with frustrations held against his brother Murdock that sometimes border on anger and annoyance. Perhaps it’s because he struggles with his own mental angsts, which he doesn’t like seeing reflected back at him. “I ain’t getting on no plane” are clearly the words of an intensely anxious man. He may have the strength to lift up a truck, but he has to be sedated before flying or he’ll reach a catatonic state. Let this be a lesson to us. Act like Mr T and we ain’t going nowhere with our mental health journey. We need to face up to whatever state we’re in, try and come to terms with it.

    Some see westerns mental illness numbers as an epidemic. But really it’s the first time in history that we can fully recognise and classify different mental states effectively, so these numbers look like an increase. They’re not. We’ve all always been this mental. Mr T might have been before his time when it came to our understanding of sexuality (or is it just me that thinks that he has a gorgeous sexual fluidity about him?). I think he walked the tightrope of the sexual spectrum with ease and we need to learn to do the same with mental health.

    This isn’t a disease that will worsen or spread. Mental health is about understanding our own ‘brain fitness’ as a continuum, that can rise and fall just as our physical health does. Sometimes we get sick. When Kanye sent tweets about his wife and mother-in-law (more on the Kardashian Klan later), it was clear to the world that this man was unwell. If he’d been in a car crash and was physically injured, we’d feel sorry for him. But if his head is suffering then we seek to ridicule, or worse to eradicate his voice as untrustworthy. It is clear that West’s extreme talent comes with a price. It’s curious though that we can’t be more accepting of the whole of his brain. Let’s relax a bit about definitions, and respect the sliding scale that is our mental state. A place where we can have a bit more fun with it, rather than be so scared and reverential. Where things are a bit more A-Team.


    My Mitford and Kardashian Mind Map

    I’ve had to cancel my ‘likes and loves’ column this month in order to help you navigate these virtually identical, impossibly famous sister-tastic families. You’re welcome.

    Kim K and Jessica Mitford are both almost civil rights lawyers. They’ve both got massive arses. Or is that just Kim? They’re both communists.

    Kris Jenner and Nancy Mitford are Momagers. It was Nancy who really crafted the Mitford brand through her novels, making the girls lives seem glamorous, adventurous and all together over the top.  KJ, ibid.

    They have a brother. Yes, who knew?! Both the Ks and the Ms have a total non for a brother. One had a baby with a stripper; one died in Burma. Same, same.

    They love a letter. Instagram/letter; same, same.

    One brought Justin Bieber’s house, one lived at Chatsworth. Again, that’s too close to call.

    Fascists.  Yes did I not mention the fascism? Unity took a revolver to her head because she was so in love with Hitler. He was a charmer after all. Makes Kim K and Donald Trump’s political alignment look positively pretty. 

    Paris living, Paris kidnapping, dairy farming, daddy issues, Dominic West and Lily James, piglets for table centre-pieces and face contouring. That’s really everything else you need to know.

    But if you need to know more watch the brilliantly witty, moving and fresh, The Pursuit of Love BBC/Amazon Studios. KKWTK series 20, ibid.

  • Stash's Studio Playlist

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    Hip-hop and punk with an NYC bent from the Brooklyn titan. 

  • Beasts in the East – Saigon Thrash

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    Neil Massey's photographs of the Saigon underground thrash metal circuit, taken in the last decade. Use the little arrows either side of the images to scroll through the folio.

    The first band photographer Neil Massey saw live, aged 15, was The Damned. After relocating with his family to Vietnam in 2010 – chosen for its large and lively young population – he found himself at an underground metal gig in Saigon, where this arguably very Western form of musical rebellion had been appropriated and bastardised into esoteric thrash metal, with a thriving scene to support it. Massey began documenting the bands, people and venues, just like he had photographed Thailand’s Full Moon parties, Somerset’s druids, Middle American teen ‘mooks’ and other subcultures for magazines like The Face.

    “Sixty percent of the Vietnamese population is under 30, most living with their parents until marriage,” says Neil, “Pressure to conform comes from all sides; the Communist Government, state run media and the family unit itself. Private moments are shared in public spaces like crowded coffee shops, bridges and parks. But high quality Internet access, provided by the state but not censored nearly as much as, say, China’s, provides a glimpse of life outside the borders.”

    The bands were mostly inspired by western equivalents and had names like ‘Rot’, ‘End of Road’ and ‘Seismic Origin’. Although one band, ‘Wừu’, was named after “Bok Wừu, an ethnic minority hero from Pleiku in the central highlands of  Vietnam,” explains Neil, “In 1939 he joined the communist backed revolution against the French colonial power. Twice he was caught by the French army but escaped, the third time they caught him they cut off both ears, all of his fingers and nose.” Massey named the London photographic exhibition that followed after the scene’s number one record label: Bloody Chunks.

    The gigs take place in front of crowds of 80-100, in thirty-plus degree heat, in dive bars, decrepit 80s-style discotheques, shacks and even living rooms. Sometimes, the police decide that they’re not going ahead and festival ‘Deathfest’ was required to make unofficial arrangements with local law enforcement.

    Details spread by word of mouth and social media. “They’re young and broke, so drinking is limited and drugs are imperceptible. The energy is akin to a straight edge crowd,” says Neil. Bare feet are common in the moshpit, because many Vietnamese take off their standard issue flip flops at the door.

    “The atmosphere is less ‘angsty’ than at a metal gig in the west. The impetus seems to be on brash self-expression for its own sake,” says Neil, “criticism of the authorities is heavily frowned upon, but this way the youth can be outrageous without provoking their ire. The government creates a little uncertainty over what is or isn’t really allowed, which actually generates a wild energy. And that’s partly the appeal of the place, why it’s becoming an alternative holiday destination to Thailand – it’s a little harder to get to and has that untamed vibe which suggests creativity.”

    See more at www.neilmassey.com and follow Neil at @mrmasseyman

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