Meet the Apprentices Part 3

9 Apr

Each week, we will interview members of The Art School Without Walls, Vol. 6 to learn more about the apprentices, their journey as artists and their aspirations


Naiky Paradis  Photo: Vince Maximin

Naiky Paradis
Photo: Vince Maximin


NAME: Naiky Paradis

AGE: 19

JOINED Cre8TiveYouTH*INK: 2012

Naiky Paradis joined the Cre8tiveYouTH*ink team when she was a junior at Brooklyn High School of the Arts. She is currently finishing her 1st year at Parsons where she studies architectural design. She is particularly interested in conceptual design and urban planning and hopes to find innovative ways to fuse her interests in fine art and architecture, with an eye on how people respond to visual stimuli in their environments.

What made you decide to major in architectural design?

I actually want to branch out from architecture eventually but I want to gain that knowledge first. It’s not just about learning how to draw buildings  but also learning how people engage with their environments, noticing how people react to places. It’s so built into our brains we don’t even notice it most of the time. If we feel bad in a place, it’s often because we’re not comfortable in the physical space but we don’t process it like that. So, having the knowledge of the bigger sphere of how that works would allow me to do so much more in the future.

Are there any specific architects who inspire you right now?

Moon Hoon, who’s from South Korea. He’s not very famous but I really like what he does with spaces. It’s insane and really inspires me.

Do you see a relationship between what you learn from architecture and what you learn from painting?

Oh definitely! They’re so related. Even though as artists we say, “oh it’s just for myself; I paint for myself,” we always really have an intended viewer in mind. Someone’s going to see it and maybe notice something special in it. A mural, a painting–they affect us the same way a building does.

What is your favorite part of working on these projects?

Well, I’m very individualistic normally. I usually work by myself and like to do everything alone so these projects help me learn to be a team player.

What advice would you give to younger artists?

Try everything. That’s what helps you the most when you’re young. I had always drawn as a kid but I started painting one day simply because a teacher told me to and I loved it. In college, I started learning about digital art and graphic design which I’ve really gotten into also. So, by being open, I’ve done so many things for the first time and that helped me discover what I do and don’t like, which helps me figure out what to do going forward.


Danny Saab Photo: Vince Maximin

Danny Saab
Photo: Vince Maximin


AGE: 20

JOINED Cre8tiveYouTH*ink: 2011

Danny Sabb became involved with Cre8tiveYouTH*ink during his sophomore year at Brooklyn High School of the Arts when his art teacher paid special attention to his talent and encouraged him to pursue art more seriously. After helping Sabb enter his work in contests and search for art-related jobs, she advised him to meet with Mista Oh! He delved right into painting projects with the team after their 1st meeting and has remain involved ever since, while pursuing individual projects and joining other art collectives.

What do you think about the photo and the name of the mural, Sign Language?

I think the title is kind of mysterious, in a good way. The photo speaks to you if you actually take a minute to stare at it. What’s so moving about the picture is that the boy is really climbing streets signs to grab a tire to make bikes with. He’s willing to go up there and do what he has to do. That’s what the picture in saying to me: you have to reach for your goals. That’s moving.

Advice for younger artists?

If art is what you want to do then go for it. No one can really stop you. No one can tell you what to believe in. You have to do what you have to do.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

I see my work in a gallery. It doesn’t have to be a popular one, I just want people to know that Danny is out there. I also like music, so I wouldn’t mind being a musician. I mean, hey, it’s related to visual art . They are like cousins!

Who are some of your favourite artists?

My favorite artist of all time is Vincent van Gogh. Starry Night is the bomb! I like the way he did the stars. I really tried to re-paint it in the eighth grade. It wasn’t too hard. It just didn’t come out the way his painting did. It came out great though. I created my own version.

Any last thoughts?

Yeah, I love Cre8tiveYouTH*ink!


Raquel Castillo Photo: Vince Maximin

Raquel Castillo
Photo: Vince Maximin


AGE: 18

JOINED Cre8tiveYouTH*ink: 2013

Raquel Castillo is one of the newer, younger Cre8tiveYouTH*ink members. She joined the crew during her senior year at Brooklyn High School of the Arts. Self-motivated and artistically driven from a very young age, Castillo prepared an art portfolio to apply to New York City middle schools without any adult help. Art has been an integral part of her life ever since. She is currently a freshman at Parsons where she majors in fashion design and minors in fashion communication.

Why do you think art is important?

It’s a universal thing and for youth it opens up different possibilities. For me, I wasn’t inspired by other subjects and my teachers weren’t helping me in middle school. And in high school, all the kids were focused on being cool but art gave me something better to focus on.

What kind of art do you create outside of Cre8tiveYouTH*ink?

I make different things but I focused on painting for my Parsons portfolio. I decided to do self-portraits. They were very big and mostly black and white, with a little red. The theme was being frozen in time. I wore red lipstick for them because I thought it was really empowering. Fashion in general can be very empowering.

How so?

You can put something on that compliments you really well and it transforms you. It can give you self-esteem and make you feel like nobody can mess with you.

Who is your favorite artist?

Alyssa Monks is my favorite artist right now. My favorite fashion designer is Elie Saab. He had no professional training. He just started when he was a kid by making clothes for his sister, which turned into these amazing gowns. I got into fashion and art initially because I loved wedding gowns.

What advice would you give to a younger artist?

Whatever kind of art you make, keep a record and find a program that focuses on that–that’s the first step. From there you’ll be able to learn about other art projects and meet other artists.


Edwina Pierre Photo: Vince Maximin

Edwina Pierre
Photo: Vince Maximin


AGE: 20

JOINED Cre8tiveYouTH*ink: 2010

Edwina Pierre was one of the Cre8tiveYouTH*ink pioneers. She became acquainted with Mista Oh! when she took his SAT Prep course at Brooklyn High School of the Arts during her sophomore year. When Mista Oh! discussed the possibility of working on art projects, she was game. Along with the other original Cre8tiveYouTH*ink members, Pierre helped artist Sofia Maldonado with outreach programs in New York City public schools before they began working on mural projects. The experience was especially fruitful for Pierre who is currently studying human services at City Tech with the goal of working with inner-city youth in the future.

What was  one of your favorite parts of working on this project?

They had Martha Cooper’s book Subway Art at a skate shop that I went to and I was looking at the pages, thinking, “that is pretty cool,” so when she showed up here and I was like, “Oh My Gosh…”

I also really like working with the team again. There is a support system in Cre8tiveYouTH*ink, which is very important. A lot of people become distanced from what they did and who they were with in high school and I’m still involved with my friends now and continue to make art even though I’m going to school to become a guidance counselor.

Why do you want to become a guidance counselor?

I like giving back to the community. Most of the projects I’m working on focus on vulnerable populations. Teens are by definition a very vulnerable population because most people don’t listen to them. But they have voices, they have interests and it’s very important for the larger community to recognize that they need help. Organizations like Cre8tiveYouTH*ink are very good for teenagers because art can minimize all the bad influences around them and give them something positive to focus on instead.

How do you think others can help aspiring artists?

It just takes one person to believe in them. It all started with my middle school art teacher so basically you just need to inspire that person even if they can’t do something well at first. It takes practice.

What would you tell the young artists themselves?

Be so focused on something like that that you don’t realize that you’re in a bad neighborhood or anything. Focus on art, music or whatever interests you have. It gets you through the hard times and helps relieve stress. Don’t give up. Even if you don’t go to school for it, still have it as a hobby.

Are you excited to see the mural finished on the new building?

Yes! I can’t wait to see the mural on the building. We’ve done panel to panel to panel and now that the project is almost done, we’re going to see it and be like, “that’s our baby.” It’s important to see things grow.

-Nicole Casamento

‘Sign Language’: The Mural’s Origins and What It Has Taught the Apprentices So Far

6 Apr

Things are looking up at the studio, the red panels of faux-brick apartment buildings replaced with planks of soft blue sky and wispy clouds. At Cre8tiveYouTH*ink’s temporary headquarters at Industry City in Brooklyn, the mural production is progressing quickly, and it was time for some reflection on the “Sign Language” project, its origins, and its impact on the arts apprentices.

The Crew with the Developers of 267 Pacific Street photo by Vince Maximum

The Cre8tive YouTH*ink crew with the developers of 267 Pacific Street.
Photo: Vince Maximin.

On a brisk Sunday, the developers of the mural’s eventual home at 267 Pacific StreetThe Quinlan Development Group and Lonicera Partners – stopped by the studio to check out progress on the mural. Tim Quinlan, the development group’s senior partner, spoke about his hope for this project. While he humbly understates the tremendous influence he and his group have had in making the project happen, he makes clear his desire to “support the next generation of artists,” stating numerous times that he is very gratified to be providing the youths with the opportunity to participate in the building’s construction while developing new artistic skills.

And indeed the project has helped the apprentices develop as artists by inspiring new ideas and learning new techniques for their own work outside of this project. For some of the apprentices, the use of stencils and spray paint was a first, and has been a tremendous learning experience.

Virginia Sanchez

Virginia Sanchez: at 15 years old, she is the youngest member
Photo: Vince Maximum.

“I can’t remember when I used stencils before, not how we do here. ” said Virginia, the youngest apprentice in the project.

Similarly, some of the apprentices were exposed to spray paint in a new light by the project. The legitimacy of aerosol-based street art was stressed and reinforced as a mode of expression by the project’s teaching artists Billy Mode and Chris Stain.

Two Masked Men Descended Upon the City

Two Masked Men Descended Upon the City – Teaching Artists Chris Stain and Billy Mode
Photo: Mista Oh

Evan Orion Photo: Mista Oh

Evan Orion
Photo: Mista Oh

Evan Orion, project crew chief, explained that he had never used spray paint specifically in a studio before this mural. “I never mixed straight-up painting with tagging. It was either one. But there’s more possibilities if you use the two.”

Cynthia Martinez: " I have learned that you can use spray paint for things besides tagging" Photo: VInce Maximin

Cynthia & Rocky: “It’s more than just tagging”
Photo: VInce Maximin

This sense of “possibilities” was shared by Cynthia, who explained, “I hadn’t really used spray paint before, though I’ve seen other people. But after this project, I will definitely use it in my stuff. You can use it for things besides tagging.”

For all of the apprentices, the boundaries of what constitutes “art” have been expanded. As Josie Gonzalez, Crew Chief Crystal’s mother, explained when she made a home-cooked dinner for the artists, “Food is art too!”

Since the project began, Crystal has been immersing herself in photography, inspired by Martha Cooper. “I would like to do what she did with ‘Street Play.’ I see the kids playing and I think, I want to document them.”

Crystal:  Photo: Jazzmine Beaulieu

Crystal: “Now I see the kids playing and I want to document them.”
Photo: Jazzmine Beaulieu

For those who had previously worked with stencils and spray paint, the sheer size of the mural taught them not to think small when it comes to their own art.

Mark Gonsalves Photo: Vince Miaximin

Mark: Now feels able to go BIG too
Photo: Vince Miaximin

“I have a big mural at my house that I’ve been trying to work on forever, maybe 12 feet long and four feet high,” said Mark. “After working on a project this big, I know I can do something with it.”

Lalita agreed that the scale of the project was making her more ambitious. “Before I never used to work on a large scale because it felt like it was too much, to cover all that space. But working on this mural, now its not intimidating anymore.”

Tim Quinlan also spoke about the origins of the idea of the mural’s production, which, came to him while walking down Smith Street with John Evans (another partner in the project) and realizing they had a “80 foot blank concrete wall” visible from the streets of Downtown Brooklyn.

They wanted to make an addition to the building and knew it couldn’t be an advertisement, “But something that would relate to New York City, the neighborhood, its history.” Quinlan continued, “We wanted something that didn’t just look community based, but actually was community-based.”

Their search ultimately led them to Cre8tive YouTH*ink, a non-profit creative arts youth development organization. The mutually beneficial relationship between the two groups was immediately obvious; and that’s how the building at 267 Pacific Street gets to have a beautiful mural which will become a part of the neighborhood’s visual landscape, and the Art School Without Walls team members get to cut their teeth and develop a new set of valuable skills by working on such a large-scale project.

Chris Stain's interpretation of Martha Cooper's photograph for the mural that will be placed on a new building on Smith St. & Pacific Ave this Spring.

Rendering of the mural going up at 267 Pacific Street by Cre8tive youTH*ink featuring Chris Stain and Billy Mode

Quinlan spoke about pride of ownership, which both teams feel at this point in the project. “But also, those who live in the building can feel proud of it, and then the neighborhood around Boerum Hill area too, and all of those passersby who see it, they can all take ownership.”

Mista Oh, head of the Cre8tive YouTH*ink team agreed, “This is our tag — and it’s gonna be there for a long while — we couldn’t be more stoked.”

– Alexander Mahany

Street Dreams: An Interview with Martha Cooper

5 Apr

Martha Cooper discusses what led to her passion for photographing street art, how one of her photos was chosen for the Art School Without Walls Vol. 6 and why she thinks you should always chase what captivates you


Martha Cooper taking and posing for pictures at our recent Open Studio Photo: Jazzmine Beaulieu

Martha Cooper began documenting graffiti before the art world thought it was cool. Her now iconic photographs from Street Play, taken in the gritty New York City of the 1970s, immortalized the ingenuity of an overlooked and under-appreciated population–city kids making the most of their bleak environment. Through her growing relationship with the children she photographed, Cooper was introduced to the clandestine world of graffiti writing. She began to document the nascent phenomenon obsessively, waiting for phone calls at all hours of the day and night that would tip her off to privy information, such as which train station would debut the latest work. The intrepid Cooper eagerly traversed the city at a moment’s notice to capture the new tags before they was buffed or defaced by others. Many of the images were eventually published in the book Subway Art, for which she is best known. 

The rest, as they say, is history, though it is still a distinct history from what is generally taught in school or displayed in museums. That has begun to change in recent years, in no small part thanks to photojournalists like Cooper who paid close attention to a subculture’s mode of expression when no one else cared to. Her willingness and ability to be in the right place at the right time gave permanent representation to otherwise ephemeral works of art. Her work introduced the world at large to a movement that has since become ubiquitous and has earned her the respect of street artists around the world. Like those she documents, Cooper is exuberant about creating something from unlikely sources. As such, her brand of journalism lends itself to not only historicizing relics of days gone by, but also celebrates the spirit of what once was, what is, and always, what could be.

Martha comes to the  famous Bowery Wall to find a huge mural celebrating her birthday that made ​​by artists like LADY PINK, HOW, NOSM, FREE5, CRASH, DAZE, BIO and FREEDOM, including others.  On the bottom right you can read: Thanks to You our work survives.

Martha goes to the Bowery Wall one day, only to find a huge mural celebrating her birthday made ​​by LADY PINK, HOW, NOSM, FREE5, CRASH, DAZE, BIO and FREEDOM and others.
On the bottom right you can read: Thanks to You our work survives.

Recently, Martha paid a visit to the Art School Without Walls Vol. 6 headquarters for an interview with Cre8tiveYouTH*ink to share some memories, thoughts and words of wisdom from her accomplished life.

Martha Cooper with Cre8tive YouTH*ink's arts apprentices. Photo: Mista Oh

Martha Cooper with Cre8tive YouTH*ink’s arts apprentices.
Photo: Mista Oh

How did you get involved with the Art School Without Walls Vol. 6?

A few years back I met Chris Stain, and he wanted to make some of his stencils based on photos from my book Street Play. Those photos were taken around 1978. They were mostly taken on the Lower East Side but the one used for this mural happens to be in Brooklyn. I took these photos because I had an idea about kids being creative and making toys from trash. So, he later approached me about this project and he wanted to use this particular picture of a boy who made bicycles from junk parts that he found on the street.  Of course I said yes. I felt like it fit with the theme of Cre8tive YouTH*ink because it was about kids being creative. You know I have to give Chris credit for choosing this picture because it was never one of my favorites. It’s growing on me!

Martha Cooper's original photograph from "Street Play" that inspired the mural "Sign Language."

Right: Martha Cooper’s original photograph from Street Play that inspired the mural Sign Language.

What are some of your favorite photos from Street Play?

My favorite ones are the ones where kids have actually made something. There’s one where they are having a go-kart race from little karts that they’ve made themselves. And another where there are kids playing skully, which is a street game you don’t see very often anymore.

What did you think about the name chosen for the mural?

Oh, I love the name! I helped choose it. Jerry (Mista Oh) originally asked me if I have a name for the picture and I’m like “Boy Getting Bicycle Parts.” You know, I really didn’t have a name. I had worked with Shepard Fairey and he renamed some of my pictures with titles like Defiant Youth, so I realized that you could have a name that went beyond just the literal interpretation of what the boy was doing. But I really didn’t have any ideas, so I told Jerry to just ask the kids for names and let us decide after.

I thought that Sign Language was a great name because it allowed for all kinds of interpretations. I could imagine a teacher asking a class, “well kids what do you think Sign Language means?” It could have pretty much any interpretation. I like that it’s open ended.

Chris Stain's interpretation of Martha Cooper's photograph for the mural that will be placed on a new building on Smith St. & Pacific Ave this Spring.

Rendering of Martha Cooper’s photograph for the mural that will be installed on the new building at 267 Pacific Sreet this Spring.

How did you begin documenting kids playing in the street?

At the time I worked for the New York Post. I was a staff  photographer so I had my camera every day. I was driving around the city, and the Post was on the Lower East Side, so as I went back to the Post,  I had two cameras and both usually had film left over. I was able to snap pictures of whatever I saw.

I didn’t realize that by photographing the kids I was also taking pictures of an historic representations of a particular neighborhood. Now it is the trendy East Village but at the time it was full of abandoned buildings. It looked like a war zone.

From Street Play Photo: Martha Cooper

From Street PlayPhoto: Martha Cooper

Were the kids comfortable being photographed?

Of course! They loved being photographed because to them I was 1) paying attention and 2) they saw me as a possible source of fame. I just remember a lot of them saying, “Are you from the news?” ‘Cause they didn’t really understand the difference between a still camera and and a TV camera, at the time.

What made you decide to begin capturing graffiti?

My project of documenting kids being creative actually evolved into my documentation of graffiti. One of the kids that I was taking pictures of on a regular basis showed me his sketches and explained to me that he was putting his name on walls–the New York City style. That was my first introduction to what graffiti was. Before that I had no idea. I didn’t even realize they were writing names. That’s how little I knew about it and most people didn’t know either. You just couldn’t really understand what the kids were writing. You kind of felt like it might be some dirty word or something but then you’d look at the letters and they didn’t make any sense– like “DEZ.” What does that mean?

Style Wars Dez hare Slime photo; Martha Cooper

Style Wars Dez Hate Slime
Photo: Martha Cooper

So, I became fascinated by graffiti, which led into what we now call street art, which is something entirely different. It went from being a super underground thing to being possibly the most predominant art form in the history of the world. That shift is largely due to the internet. Now it’s in every country of the world! There’s still a lot of underground activity but so much of it is above ground as well which is also fun.

At the time, I thought that this could only happen in New York City and it’s not going to be here for very long, and I’m going to have the pictures. I never thought it was going to spread world wide.

Martha Cooper surprises studio guests with a visit and takes time to chat about her work.

Martha Cooper surprises the studio guests with a visit and takes time to chat about her work. Photo: Jazzmine Beaulieu


How do you think it affects the contemporary art scene?

I think graffiti broke open the art world in some ways. It’s a very egalitarian thing because pretty much anybody could go out and put something on a wall. And you don’t need to go find a gallery to give you a show to have your work seen. That’s such a lengthy process and it is so difficult. And if your work is in a gallery, your work has to be marketable because they need to make enough money to pay rent. Street art can be wheat-pasted, it can be stenciled, whatever.

Do you make aesthetic decisions when taking these kinds of images?

You know, I never really wanted to be an artist. I consider myself as more of a journalist. I always like the pictures where the kids are doing something that their mothers definitely would not want them doing! There is one, for example, of these kids who have wooden guns and a clubhouse in an abandoned building.

How come you didn’t document the corresponding hip hop scene?

I was drawn to the things that happened in the street, under the radar. I didn’t really want to document something that was meant to be seen. For me the challenge was to go out in the streets on a sort of a quest, a treasure hunt. See what I could go find, starting with an idea. The idea of kids being creative gave me that starting point.

And still photography is a perfect way to document art. It’s not a perfect way to document music. You’re not going to hear the music in a still photograph. The sound is more important than the visual for the music so I hardly took any pictures.

If I had known that hip hop was going to blow up and become something so huge, I think I would have paid more attention. If I had shot some of the early hip hop artists, I could have spent less time doing commercial work that I wasn’t interested in. I was in places where Afrika Bambaataa was for example, and I didn’t take any pictures. So, now I shoot everything, just in case.

Martha Cooper shares some fun moments with the team. From Left to Right: Brina Lee, Billy Mode, Martha Cooper, Chris Stain, Jerry Otero (Mista Oh!).

Martha Cooper shares some fun moments with the team. From Left to Right: Brina Lee, Billy Mode, Martha Cooper, Chris Stain, Jerry Otero (Mista Oh!). Photo: Jazzmine Beaulieu


What sustained your interest in documenting graffiti over the years?

Well, it always came from my own personal interests and regularly finding people who interested me. I majored in art in college [Grinnell College] and I also did a year of graduate study in anthropology [Oxford University]. Street art sort of falls into those categories. It’s culturally relevant, it’s in different communities, and I like to travel. My area of interest has continued to provide me with a life, basically. I have a lot be thankful for. There’s no end to satisfaction.

Can you tell us about what you’re working on at the moment?

I’m doing a project in my hometown of Baltimore. It’s not about street art or graffiti but it is a street photography project. I started out simply documenting this one neighborhood in Baltimore, Sowebo, but was then invited to South Africa for a street art event called “ I ART JOBURG.” It was in Johannesburg and they took me to a place named Soweto and I’m like, “ Oh this looks a lot like Sowebo.” Turned out that Sowebo was actually nicknamed after Soweto. So I wanted to go to Soweto during a regular time and see what the real  Soweto was like. Once I saw the similarities between the street life in Sowebo and Soweto, I felt like a could really do something with this. So, I went back last year and am going back again. I’ve just had a lot of fun making these photographic comparisons of both places. I’m not sure what it will lead to yet. I just really wanted to get back to shooting on the streets. Some of my best pictures from this project are similar to the Street Play pictures.

What advice would you give to an aspiring artist or a photographer?

I would say follow your interests. At the time I started my street life pictures, I was also doing commercial work, public relations, and all kinds of other things to make money. But none of the pictures I took over the past 30 years on assignment, even including some assignments for high-level magazines like National Geographic, really mean anything to me today. I don’t use them. They are not even in my portfolio. But following things that meant something to me wound up being really lasting (even though some of them were not easy to define–like kids playing creatively isn’t really a category). So follow what you’re truly interested in and 20 years from now you’ll have something that you still like.

And be persistent! Don’t worry if you’re rejected. Rejection is a big part of succeeding as a freelancer. Get used  to people not wanting what you have to offer be determined to keep doing it anyway.

Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant’s images of graffitied subway cars from the ’70s and early ’80s will be on view for City Lore‘s exhibition “Moving Murals,” through July 10th.

–Nicole Casamento

Art School Without Walls Vol 6 to Host Open Studio!

21 Mar

The Art School Without Walls, Vol. 6. is hosting an Open Studio this Sunday, March 23.

Meet Jerry Otero, Chris Stain, Billy Mode, the 13 artist apprentices, and the rest of the team behind Sign Language, the mural being created for a  residential building under construction at 267 Pacific Street in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn.

Sunday, March 23, 2014
01:00 PM – 03:00 PM
Industry City Arts Complex
254 36th Street — Building 2 Studio C547
Brooklyn NY 11232

D or N train to 36th Street
Group shot with Martha Cooper

Chris Stain's interpretation of Martha Cooper's photograph for the mural that will be placed on a new building on Smith St. & Pacific Ave this Spring.

Chris Stain’s interpretation of Martha Cooper’s photograph for the mural that will be placed on a new building on Smith St. & Pacific Ave this Spring.

Meet the Apprentices Part 2

21 Mar

Each week, we will interview members of The Art School Without Walls, Vol. 6 to learn more about the apprentices, their journey as artists and their aspirations

Crystal Gonzalez.  Photo: Robin Cembalest.

Crystal Gonzalez.
Photo: Robin Cembalest.

Name: Crystal Gonzalez

Age: 22

Joined Cre8tiveYouTH*ink: 2010

Crystal Gonzalez became one of the founding members of Cre8tiveYouTH*ink while a senior at Brooklyn High School of the Arts. She has since worked her way up to the position of crew chief for The Art School Without Walls Vol. 6 and is currently studying multimedia arts and design at Borough of Manhattan Community College. Due to her growing interest in photography, Gonzalez is documenting the progress of “Sign Language” for a class this semester in addition to painting the mural.


Why were you interested in being a project leader? 

There should be more people like us who welcome young artists and teach them about different art forms. I didn’t have that because I grew up in the projects. I wasn’t able to hang out with these people so I basically raised myself in the arts as a kid.

What are your thoughts on the mural’s title, “Sign Language?”

I think the way they used “Sign Language” makes sense because sign language is meant for people who can’t speak and a painting can’t talk either. But both utilize a different language that has no sound at all.

What have you learned from working on this specific project? 

I’ve been looking at a lot of photography since this project started. I would like to do what Martha Cooper has done with “Street Play.” I see the kids in my neighborhood and I think, “I wish I could   document their every move.”

One of my goals is to travel, not for the beautiful scenes but for the views inside of things that are kind of sad. It would be cool to document something heartbreaking, like a run-down building or city, and record it as it transforms into something happy. 

Do you plan on staying involved with future Cre8tiveYouTH*ink projects ?

Yeah, yeah most definitely until the very end. I hope this grows bigger and that we get our own studio–don’t want to let the old man [Mista Oh!] down at all!

What advice would you give a young aspiring artist?

Don’t give up. Do things for yourself, things that will make you a better person.

Andew Fraser-Humphrey.

Andew Fraser-Humphrey

Name:  Andrew Fraser-Humphrey

Age: 20

Joined Cre8tiveYouTH*ink: 2010

Andrew Fraser-Humphrey became an enthusiastic Cre8tiveYouTH*ink member during his senior year at Brooklyn Technical High School. He has since become a passionate painter, often waxing poetic about the potential of art. He almost continued with his tech studies into college but decided to take a chance on his dreams and enrolled as a music major at Hunter College instead. Now in his junior year in the program, Fraser-Humphrey plays bass for “Dolphins Safe Tuna,” a group he co-founded with his college classmates, and paints with Cre8tiveYouTH*ink during his free time.

Do you see connection between visual art and music?

It’s really interesting because when I play music it’s similar to when I am painting with the Cre8tiveYouTH*ink team in a way; I play jazz and the improvisational element of jazz brings out my creativity with a group. It’s really great because we end up with various people giving various takes on how they feel about the same thing. It’s a way of exporting your own life experiences, taking yourself out of yourself, and seeing it on a wall or hearing it in a sound.

What do you like about this mural?

It’s a great way to show off Brooklyn spirit and it’ll be a great centerpiece for Downtown Brooklyn which has changed a lot over the years and really does have more of an artsy look to it now.

Any advice for younger artists?

More than anything you owe it to yourself to attempt to immerse yourself in what you want to do rather than toss it aside and say its impossible. Give it your best effort and try at least once.

Marc Gonsalvez.

Marc Gonsalvez

Name: Mark Gonsalvez

Age: 22 1/2

Joined Cre*tiveYouTH*ink: 2010

Mark Gonsalvez joined Cre8tiveYouTH*ink the summer after he graduated from Brooklyn High School of the Arts. He was most excited about joining a group of emerging artists trying to “make it” in New York City. He currently studies graphic design and illustration at Pratt Institute and is interested in pursuing a career working on public art projects that inspire and educate people. With an insatiable interest in art history and an outgoing personality, Gonsalvez jumps right into each project with a ready brush and a ready smile.

What is your favorite part of Cre8tive YouTH*ink projects?

I don’t even know where to start. Seeing everyone’s different ideas, characters, and styles and creating a kind of medley of artists. I almost had a heart attack when one piece wasn’t coming out  the way I wanted it but it was fun making it work together.

What do you think about Martha Cooper’s image that was chosen for the mural?

It’s symbolic of turning junk into beauty. When I was 10, I would collect aluminum foil and I’d use it for art. I’d go into neighbors’ recycling bins or take my grandmother’s foil. She’d get mad at me but I couldn’t NOT do it because it was what was interesting to me. I really loved making sculptures with it. So, the photo took me back to when I was a kid. I didn’t know why I was making art as a kid. I just saw things that were interesting. And a lot of artists do that. As an artist you want to transform things. Like Duchamp.

Are you inspired by Duchamp?

Thats something I’ve learned about that has stayed with me.  I’ve found myself looking at certain things and seeings them as possible art material. Treasure in subjective and everyone has their own treasure. Art is also subjective and everyone has their own art.

What do you think about turning the image into a public mural?

Turning it into a mural is very compelling and will leave a lasting message because it’s very Brooklyn and it’s also a  very nostalgic piece since Brooklyn is changing a lot now. The Brooklyn I remember from growing up and the Brooklyn of today are two completely different things. The young boy claiming street signs and collecting broken parts makes me think of the way Brooklyn was then.

Advice to younger artists?

I would tell them to use every pencil, paint, or piece of chalk they can find. And use it until you need more, and make yourself want to make more  art by using what you have. The paint is going to dry up, and the pencil and charcoal is going to get brittle, and that’s art you could give to yourself and the world . Really, just do it. If you have a pencil and it’s at 100%, you’re doing something wrong…unless you just got a new pencil!

Lalita Santos Photo: Robin Cembalest.

Lalita Santos
Photo: Robin Cembalest.

Name: Lalita Santos

Age: 20

Joined Cre8tiveYouTH*ink: 2010

Lalita Santos joined Cre8tiveYouTH*ink in her sophomore year at Brooklyn High School of the Arts because all of her friends were involved by then. But what began as just another after-school activity to kill time soon turned into one of the best experiences of her life when the team (then called the “SPARK BklynArts Gallery Club”) worked together to transform a community center’s rooftop into an artistic oasis and used one of her illustrations as the basis for the project’s design. She has been hooked ever since and currently studies illustration at Parsons The New School for Design.

How was the work you did with Cre8tiveYouTH*ink different from what you worked on in high school?

We didn’t collaborate on projects in high school so it was different working on projects that weren’t entirely my own. For example, on the 1st project, everyone liked a tree I sketched and decided to put it on the rooftop but some team members had different ideas to add to it also. I tried not to be bossy about it and in the end, the work was better as a result.

What advice would you give to a younger artist?

Draw or paint anything that you like and then try to use different mediums because when I started I had no idea what I wanted to do and I am still figuring it out. Working on projects like these helps me and could help someone else find out what they want.

Has working on this project inspired your own art?

I haven’t don’t anything on a large scale like this and sometimes I have trouble coming up with ideas on my own but I have this piece of wood that is about 4 ft by 3 ft –not as large as this mural but it’s pretty big–and I want to spray paint it. It’s my first self-initiated project; no one is telling me what to do with this one—I just have to come up with something and try!

–Nicole Casamento

Read the first round of apprentice interviews.

Cre8tive YouTH*ink and ‘Sign Language’: 10 Panels Down, 80 To Go

15 Mar

Led by Chris Stain and Billy Mode, the Art School Without Walls, Vol. 6′s “Sign Language” begins to take shape and the crew meets Martha Cooper

Even the scheduled power outage (due to building maintenance) couldn’t stop the  Cre8tive YouTH*ink team from moving forward on their new mural.  No problem: the crew simply got busy using the natural light streaming into the spacious Brooklyn loft at Industry City.

The photographer legendary Martha Cooper surprises the team with a visit to the to the studio late Sunday afternoon.

The legendary photographer Martha Cooper surprises the team with a visit to the to the studio.
Photo: Mista Oh.

Rows of red, faux-brick panels with painted black and gray windows line the two long walls of the studio. A giant foot, taking up more than a single 4-foot-by-8-foot panel, gives a good indication of just how monumental the “Sign Language” mural will be once assembled at its final home at 267 Pacific in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn in early spring.

The scale of this mural is massive! PHOTO COURTESY OF MISTA OH

The scale of the “Sign Language” mural is massive!
Photo: Mista Oh

Virginia, Cynthia, Lalita and Vince PHOTO COURSTSY OF MISTa OH

Virginia, Cynthia, Lalita and Vince
Photo: Nibor

The panels in-progress are secured by an ingenious system of wooden slats, which are secured to the wall above and below the mural planks. Smaller pieces of wood are screwed into the boards so that they may rotate, holding the boards in place until they are finished and can be sent out to the construction crew that will put them up on the facade of the forthcoming building at 267 Pacific Avenue in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn.

Chris Stain directing traffic Photo by Mista Oh

Chris Stain directing traffic
Photo: Mista Oh

A smaller side studio holds the completed panels, which lay on a slightly raised grid-system. These panels dry in the sunny, warm afternoon, waiting for their final layer of Sherwin-Williams industrial/marine clear acrylic overcoat for added protection. This smaller studio also houses most of the team’s supplies, with tubs of paint, brushes, wooden planks, aerosol cans and other items lined on a large makeshift table.

The team has spray-painted their names, tags, and various doodles onto these tables and the protective cardboard around the panels, giving the studio a lived-in feel.


Cynthia leaves her mark
Photo: Crystal Gonzalez

The team of apprentices hums with a familiarity that only comes from a group that has worked together before; indeed, some of the students have participated in all five of Mista Oh and Cre8tive YouTH*ink’s previous projects.

From a ladder, apprentice Cynthia applies red daubs in a cross-hatch technique. When she begins to run out of paint, crew chief Crystal is already on her way over with a new tray of paint. The two compare this new shade of red with the color already drying on the panel and decide to go with a darker hue, to give the brick more depth and texture. This is just one example of the confident communication and collaboration going on within this experienced team.

On Sundays, the girls outnumber the boys 2;1 - here we see Naiky, Lalita and Edwina -

On Sundays, the girls outnumber the boys 2:1 Here we see Naiky, Lalita and Edwina
Photo: Mista Oh.

On the other side of the room, Billy Mode talks with apprentices Alicia and Virginia, showing them one of his paintings. He discusses his use of stencils and how this technique can create mind-bending images. As fellow artists who have learned the art of stencils and spray cans directly from Mode himself, the team appreciates his work as equals.

Like the team they lead, Billy Mode and Chris Stain have a seasoned intimacy because of their collaborative history and friendship. Sometimes it seems like they don’t need to communicate verbally at all, so in sync are they with the project’s goals and progress. When they walk around the side studio, looking at the painted panels ready for their final coat, they merely nod satisfactorily and slap each other on the back.

Chris and Billy getting' it done -- outlines for the next day's work.

Chris and Billy getting’ it done late into the night — readying the outlines for the next day’s work.
Photo: Mista Oh.

In addition to traditional latex painting methods, the apprentices have learned aerosol spray-can techniques and stenciling savvy. These new skillsets are undoubtedly expanding the apprentices’ creative horizons. Despite an emphasis on the physical, plastic craft of painting during the construction of the mural, photography remains an essential component of the project.


Alicia applies her newly learned aerosol techniques
Photo: Cyrstal Gonzalez

The picture of an inner city youth collecting bicycle parts, on which the mural is based, hangs in multiple locations around the studio for inspiration. Big-ups to photographer Andrew Moore for his gift of the large-scale prints the team uses for reference.

Indeed, the legendary Martha Cooper, whose iconic series “Street Play Project” includes the mural’s source photograph, has visited the studio as well.

Photograph of Chris Stain's adaptation of "Street Play" - Extra large prints donated by Andrew Moore Photography

Chris Stain’s adaptation of “Street Play” Prints donated by Andrew Moore Photography.
Photo: Mista Oh.

She, like Stain and Mode, slid naturally into the role of mentor, doling out photography tips to crew chief Crystal, who is documenting the project for a class. Cooper, who like Stain and Mode hail from Baltimore, applauded the apprentices on their vision and dedication to such a large undertaking.

On Sunday, the first group of ten panels got their Sherwin-Williams clear coat to protect them against the elements, thereby completing the first set of mural panels.

Billy Mode at work

Billy Mode at work
Photo: Mista Oh.

The boards secured to the walls got their finishing touches of paint, soon to be moved to the side studio to dry and receive their final coat. The new, blank planks will be projected upon and stenciled, then painted and sprayed. The cycle goes on; wash, rinse, repeat. Ten panels down, 80 or so to go.

- Alexander Mahany

Meet the Apprentices Part 1

6 Mar

Each week, we will interview members of The Art School Without Walls, Vol. 6 to learn more about the apprentices, their journey as artists and their aspirations


Moise Joseph.

Photo: Crystal Gonzalez

Name: Moise Joseph

Age: 22

Joined Cre8tive YouTH*ink: 2010

Moise Joseph joined Cre8tiveYouTH*ink during his junior year at Brooklyn High School of the Arts and has participated in every Art School Without Walls project to date. A long-time illustrator, Joseph first learned about different painting techniques by participating in the program and now considers “blending” to be one of his technical strengths. He is currently creating his own comic books and funds his efforts by working retail at Uniqlo.

What do you think about the Martha Cooper photo that has been chosen for this project?

The photo seems very nostalgic but nostalgia is usually associated with happiness for me.

Did you know about Martha Cooper’s “Street Play” project?

I wasn’t aware of Martha Cooper’s work before Jerry showed us the image but I was very happy with it. Then Chris Stain explained how the boy in the photo would salvage bike parts to make something his own and this is exactly what we do as artists.

What artists inspire you the most right now?

Hajime Sorayama and Hayao Miyazaki. They also inspire through nostalgia. Their work is magic and always catches me by surprise.

Why do you think art is important?

Art is important because it allows everyone to express themselves. It can be extremely simple or complex but it’s never the same.

What advice would you give to other young artists?

As long as you really look, you’ll see something new, something no one else sees.

Virginia Lee Sanchez Photo: Robin Cembalest

Virginia Lee Sanchez

Photo: Robin Cembalest

Name: Virginia Lee Sanchez

Age: 15

Joined Cre8tive YouTH*ink: 2012

Virginia Lee Sanchez is the youngest member of Cre8tive YouTH*ink. She joined the crew as a 13-year-old freshman at the High School of Communication in Long Island City after attending a meeting at the Bronx Museum. Sanchez had no prior art background but was eager to work with the group who she now considers to be family. Though she plans to study Marine Biology, Sanchez is a committed member of the Art School Without Walls team.

What was you biggest challenge when working on the murals?

One of the most challenging things was myself because I’m really insecure about everything. I was surrounded by all older kids and I was afraid they’d think I didn’t know what I was doing, but they were all very supportive. I now feel like they’re all my big sisters and brothers. Even though I say I don’t like being the youngest, I really do!

What is your favorite part of working on the projects?

Handling paint. It’s fun and it’s not something I get to do in school. I spray painted for the first time two weeks ago and really enjoyed it.

What do you think of the Martha Cooper Photo?

I had never seen it before but the whole idea of the kid in the neighborhood resonates with all of us.

Who are your favorite graffiti artists?

Muffin Man is very cool and so is Klops. I feel sad for the artist when a work gets buffed so I always stop and take pictures.

What advice would you give to other young artists?

I feel in general people shouldn’t be afraid of making art. I’m always terrified when starting a new project but it’s really important to make things.


Alicia Elena Prieto

Photo: Crystal Gonzalez

Name: Alicia Elena Prieto

Age: 20

Joined Cre8tive YouTH*ink: 2010

Alicia Elena Prieto joined Cre8tive YouTH*ink when she was a sophomore at Brooklyn Technical High School after her father introduced her to Robin Cembalest who runs The Gallery Club for the group. Prieto has been involved with art for much of her life, taking classes both in and out of school. She is currently considering a career in advertising as a way to use her interests in comics and graphic art.

What have you learned since joining Cre8tive YouTH*ink?

Mural projects were very new for me. I had no experience working outdoors or with a group or on someone else’s vision. It was a very good learning experience to take instruction but also because it wasn’t so rigid. It was very nice. This will be my first time spray painting so that’s also an entirely new experience. I feel like this current project really gives me a good idea of where art can take you.

What do you think of the Martha Cooper photo chosen for this project?

The subject is perfect for us since we are all reaching toward our own ambitions as young people.

What inspires you as an artist?

I have always been into comics. I read Hergé throughout my childhood. I am also into feminist art. Frida Kahlo is a favorite of mine because I see her as someone doing what she wants to do in the world despite the odds and it is very inspiring.

Why do you think art projects like this are important for young artists?

I think projects like this are important for the purpose of letting people know that art is open to everyone. It’s important to open people up to the idea that they’re free to make art and express themselves. It has definitely opened my eyes and helped me visualize my own future.

Cre8tiveYouTH*ink Members during breaktime.  COURTESY CRYSTAL GONZALEZ.

Cre8tiveYouTH*ink Members during breaktime.

Photo: Crystal Gonzalez

–Nicole Casamento

“Sign Language” by Cre8tiveYouTH*ink featuring Chris Stain and Billy Mode: The Mural is Named and Ready for Painting

4 Mar

photo (2)

The Art School Without Walls, Vol. 6 team votes on a name for their new mural. Teaching artists Billy Mode and Chris Stain prepare the group for the work ahead at their temporary headquarters at Industry City Studios.

The Art School Without Walls, Vol. 6 has finally kicked into full gear. The team recently gathered at their large Industry City art studio, where the mural will be painted over the next few weeks before being relocated to its permanent home: a new residential building being developed by The Quinlan Development Group and Lonicera Partners at 267 Pacific Avenue in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn.

The first orders of business were picking a name for the new mural and going over the logistics of its implementation. The apprentices also had time to become acquainted with teaching artist Billy Mode, who will be co-leading the project along with Chris Stain and Mista Oh.

Chris Stain and Billy Mode with apprentices Moise Joseph and Evan Orion.


The mural is based on an iconic image from Martha Cooper‘s “Street Play Project,” her meditation on the resiliency  of urban youth making the best of their circumstances to “make something out of nothing.” In the motivational spirit of her own work and Cre8tiveYouTH*ink’s mission, Cooper encouraged the young apprentices to choose possible names for the mural themselves. Robin Cembalest, the executive editor of ARTnews Magazine, lent her expertise by leading the team through brainstorming activities to come with ideas for the mural’s title.

Apprentices Alicia Prieto and Andrew Humphrey discuss titles for the mural.


After reflecting upon the content of the image and playing around with free associations, the team came up with ten choices which were later voted on by Martha Cooper herself, Chris Stain, Billy Mode and Mista Oh. “Sign Language” was ultimately chosen as the work’s title with “No One Way” coming in a close second.

The Process

Billy Mode (left) and Chris Stain (right) break down the upcoming process for the apprentices.


At the following meeting, Stain and Mode projected the image onto the wall and engaged the apprentices in a discussion of the process of the making of the mural. They explained how the approximately 100 4-foot-by-8-foot panels would be painted individually using a variety of techniques and materials. These include stencils, traditional exterior latex paints, aerosol spray paint and an industrial/marine clear overcoat for added protection.

The group also discussed the use of the Photoshop program as an essential tool that was used to crop out each of the hundred sections — saving them digitally to enable projecting them onto each panel independently from the others.

“The challenge is going to be adapting our precise measurements with the imprecise realities  of the actual building itself, to be sure that all the panels line up correctly,” said Mista Oh.

Chris Stain and Mista Oh discuss the project’s challenges with the Cre8tiveYouTH*ink team.


In addition, since the group won’t be installing the panels themselves, they must follow the jig-saw puzzle-like coding system developed by the construction company handling the installation to ensure the panels are installed in their proper place.

Billy Mode

Street Artist Billy Mode.


Billy Mode then shared details of his own life with the group. He credits the dynamic punk rock scene in Baltimore and Washington D.C. as an early influence on his work, citing bands like Bad Brains, in addition to the synergy that was emerging between the skateboarding, graffiti and hip-hop cultures.

He described how he met Chris Stain as a teenager growing up in Baltimore in the 1980s, which Mode describes as, “the right place and the right time for street art.” “We remained friends through the ‘90s and began working on projects together because we pushed each other artistically,” said Mode about his early relationship with Stain.

Mode explained how his initial goal as a graffer was to tag his name in as many places as possible but he grew weary of the practice over time. “It began to feel redundant and narcissistic to keep repeating my tag. It was all about me and how I could impress people. Now I am interested in how I can affect others and want to leave them with something more positive and provocative.” He ended his talk by reminding the apprentices of what is possible for them. “You have the freedom and responsibility as artists to make someone think through the power of your work.”

The Cre8tive YouTH*ink team at Industry City.


–Nicole Casamento

Spray It Loud: Cre8tive YouTh*ink Launches New Street Art Project with Chris Stain & Billy Mode

23 Feb Chris Stain meets the team.

Street artist Chris Stain meets the Art School Without Walls team to discuss the upcoming mural project, their inner-city upbringing, and why maintaining a creative life is so important

Earlier this winter, Cre8tive YouTh*ink hosted a pre-production planning party at Ray Smith’s sprawling Studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn, to gear up for The Art School Without Walls, Vol. 6. Cre8tive YouTh*ink is a New York City-based nonprofit creative-arts youth-development group founded by Jerry Otero. The Art School Without Walls is Cre8tive YouTh*ink’s initiative to place inner-city youth under the apprenticeship of established artists to create collaborative works of art. Five projects have been completed to date, including a mural for the Bronx Museum of Art and most recently, a series of murals for the New Museum’s Ideas City Festival in 2013.

The next project, a collaboration with the Quinlan Development Group and Lonicera Partners, will be led by renowned street artists Christ Stain and Billy Mode. Stain and Mode will guide 12 artists (ages 15-22) in Mural and Printmaking workshops to produce a large-scale mural that will appear on a new building at 267 Pacific Street in Brooklyn this Spring. The mural is based on an iconic image from ” Street Play Project,” a collection of 1970s photos by Martha Cooper that highlights the creative spirit of New York City’s inner-city residents.

Left: The chosen photograph  for the upcoming mural from Martha Cooper's "Street Play Project," depicting a teenager who scavenged the city for bicycle parts to craft his own stylized inventions. Right: Chris Stain's interpretation of Martha Cooper's photograph for the mural that will be placed on a new building on Smith St. & Pacific Ave this Spring.

Left: The chosen photograph for the upcoming mural from Martha Cooper’s “Street Play Project,” depicting a teenager who scavenged the city for bicycle parts to craft his own stylized inventions. Right: Chris Stain’s interpretation of Martha Cooper’s photograph for the mural that will be placed on a new building on Smith St. & Pacific Ave this Spring.

At the planning party, Stain met his 12 new apprentices for the first time, along with the social media interns (us!) who will be documenting the mural’s creation along the way. He presented a slideshow of images of his earlier work and discussed how he became an artist, which began when he was an inner-city teenage graffer in Baltimore in the 1980s. First he talked about some of his techniques for creating street art, such as stenciling which he is best known for, and how he continuously aims to create the same esthetic in larger pieces.

Stain also opened up about the more personal details of his life as a graffiti artist, including his scrapes with the law. The artist stressed the ephemerality of graffiti as both a strength and a weakness in the medium. It is rare for a work of street art to last very long without being buffed or tagged by other artists. While this can be frustrating at times, it also ensures that street art always remains relevant to its location and of its moment. Stain recalled a particular piece that took two weeks to create and was buffed only two weeks after that. Stain used this point to illustrate why photography and documentation are so important to street artists and how photojournalists like Martha Cooper help preserve its memory.

Chris Stain shares his childhood and early work in Baltimore with the group.

Chris Stain shares his childhood and early work in Baltimore with the group.

After discussing his own background, Stain asked for everyone in the room to introduce themselves and to share some of their own stories as artists and city kids. Going around a full circle, each person divulged how they became involved with art. Everyone had been involved with Cre8tive YouTH*ink before, and some of the original artists are now working as leaders and mentors to the newer members. Trying to stay positive while growing up in tough neighborhoods was a shared bond they all had with the artist.

One member, Vince, said that he loved The Art School Without Walls because it allows him to express who he really is. “You go to art school and they try to take you away from yourself,” said Vince, who joined the team when he was still a high school student and now attends Parsons. Chris Stain, who took the time to respond to each member individually, said, “You don’t go to art school to become an artist; you go because you are an artist and want to sharpen your skills.” He recounted a recent time when his work was harshly criticized by an art teacher despite the fact that his art was already being shown in well-known museums around the world, reminding the students to not let the opinions of others weigh on them.

Another member, Dan, agreed and added that his inspiration had to come from himself because it couldn’t come from the hood where he grew up. “I use art as an escape realm because if my mind is focused on art, it can’t be focused on the negative. While I’m drawing, I can get better, while others might get worse,” he said.

Chris Stain meets the team.

Chris Stain meets the team.

Though he never planned on becoming a teacher, Stain loved it once he began. He has a passion for working with inner-city youth and believes that it’s vital for street art to represent the narratives of the people. He chose an image from Street Play because it shows how people can make something beautiful from almost nothing. He pointed out that he always adds birds to the picture he uses for his graffiti to symbolize hope, especially in the inner-city. Stain is currently attending Queens College for a degree in Art Education.

“No matter what you do, you can invent the future, invent what you want,” he said, looking around the young circle of artists. “Creativity is what’s going to keep you growing, no matter what you’re into.”

 —Nicole Casamento

Cardinal Knowledge

28 May

Photo courtesy Tim Schreier

All the birds on the Lower East Side are tweeting about the crazy-looking flock that took up roost on Avenue D and 5th Street, on the side of the Lora Deli and Supermarket. Leading the pack is a giant, blazing-red cardinal, brandishing what looks to be a peacock’s tail, perched on a pair of clouds amidst a tropical storm. Around him flutter candy-colored pipers, as though a bunch of Twitter avatars had gone rogue and resurfaced in the jungle. The mesmerizing menagerie was brought to life, via paintbrush, roller, and spray can, over the course of one sunny Sunday by an ebullient, efficient, and energized team—two experienced muralists, H Veng Smith and Sofia Maldonado, and nine young artists, all soon-to-be or recent graduates of Brooklyn High School of the Arts and Brooklyn Tech. Presiding over it all was Jerry Otero, aka Mista Oh!, who had conjured the event as part of his youth development group, Cre8tive Youth*ink. Welcome to The Art School Without Walls, vol. 2—Organic New York w/Sofia Maldonado and H. Veng Smith.

The project began when some neighbors at 5th and D, disappointed that the Chico mural that had long adorned the Lora’s exterior was whitewashed, reached out to Mista Oh. They’d discovered Cre8tive Youth*ink (home of niborama and my Gallery Club) online and wondered if the group was willing to  create a new mural on the site. So Mista Oh called Sofia, a veteran of large walls (and skate parks) who’d collaborated so spectacularly with Cre8tive Youth last year on The Art School w/out Walls, Vol. 1 – Tropical Storm: Gowanus. That project, a kickstarter-funded mural on 4th Street near Hoyt–headquartered in Ray Smith’s nearby studio and painted by a changing roster of 25 kids–was so successful that even before it was finished it spawned a tiny raincloud on Tom Otterness’s wall across the way.

This time around, the team also recruited Veng, a street artist famous for his hyperrealistic yet surreal images of birds, frogs, and other fabulous fauna. With the help of a grant from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and a gift from the artist Retna (who painted the current mural at Bowery and Houston), the Art School Without Walls was underway.

The early bird really did get the worm when Chris, Crystal, and Moise J, Cre8tive Youth Peer Mentors who are veterans of several mural projects with Mista Oh, arrived at 8 a.m. to set up the site. In the spirit of apprenticeship that’s key to the group’s mission, they worked with Veng and Sofia to begin making their mutual vision a reality. From Sofia they honed their skills with paintbrush and roller, not to mention working as a well-oiled crew. From Veng, they learned how to wield a spray can as expertly as they do a paint brush. With the arrival of Alicia and Andrew—she a Pratt-bound Brooklyn Tech senior (and Brooklyn museum intern), he a freshman music major at Hunter College—Organic New York emerged, bursting forth in brilliant color.

It was soon clear that a match made in the spirit of youth development also made for a stunning artistic union: Sofia’s storm clouds were the perfect perches for Veng’s winged creatures, who grew brighter and more extravagant in the tropical climate. With four more kids turned up–Parsons student Vince and Cynthia (who’s studying art at Queens College), along with two more Brooklyn High School of the Arts students–Jesús and Naiky (a Parsons Pre-College Academy member)—the apprentices became the instructors. In the Cre8tive Youth spirit of “each one teach one,” the first group taught the second one; then they all worked together to finish the mural before nightfall. Just down the block from an urban paradise, El Jardín del Paraíso, Organic New York extended the garden (via the imagination) into the street, transforming the neighborhood—and everyone who took part in it. Cre8tive Youth friend Tim Schreier covered the event for The Local. And watch Mista Oh’s slide show of how it all came together right here.


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