"The Flood Gates Are Open": Graffiti Legend Futura on the State of Street Art and His NYC Comeback

"The Flood Gates Are Open": Graffiti Legend Futura on the State of Street Art and His NYC Comeback
"Checkpoint Charlie," 2012 (detail)
(Courtesy the Artist)

Next month seminal graffiti artist Futura, one of the first generation of street artists who successfully parlayed their ubiquity on New York City's walls to secure exhibitions in its white cube galleries, will have his first solo show in his hometown in over a decade. Since rising to fame alongside contemporaneous Downtown legends Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Kenny Scharf, he's gone on to show around the world and design hugely successful limited edition products for Levi's, Supreme, The North Face, and, most recently, Hennessy.

Though he's been hard at work prepping his first solo show in New York in 12 years — a pop-up exhibition presented by Andy Valmorbida in the enormous West Soho building 560 Washington Street that runs September 6-October 1 — Futura took a moment to talk to ARTINFO about the state of street art, his latest work, and his next mural project.

“Future Shock” marks your first solo show of new paintings in more than a decade; why did you decide to do this exhibition now?

The stars are aligning.

How would you describe the differences between this new body of work and the abstract paintings with grids and atoms that you're known for? Will there be anything other than paintings in the show?

I think the new work is better than anything I've ever worked on. Too much technical progression. There's also that neon Futura signature, which is pure blue fire.

How long have you been working on the works in this exhibition? Do you find that you work more slowly or more quickly as your career develops?

All summer. But speed depends on where I'm working and the restrictions of size or space. As a rule, spraypaint dries very, very quickly. 

Street art's place within the art world has changed so much in the last decade, becoming ever more assimilated into the art market; what are the most fundamental changes in that relationship that you've seen since you started out?

Back in the day, the motivation wasn't about economics, it was about exposure.

What do you think are some of the positive and negative aspects of the art market embracing street art?

The flood gates are open. Too many individuals without any credible historics. Looks like the '80s all over again, with a better crop of a creative community. The reality is many of the contemporary artists are extremely talented and it's no longer a neighborhood affair — it's a global phenomenon.

You've collaborated with many companies in the past, and you recently designed a limited edition bottle for Hennessy; what appealed to you about that particular collaboration?

Seeing my design — but more importantly, my signature — on over 300 bottles. That's beyond exposure.

Your new show will be in a pop-up space rather than a traditional gallery; what are some of the advantages of this type of non-traditional venue?

I would imagine one could negotiate a better financial arrangement in the non-traditional setting. 

How closely do you follow street art today? Do you have any favorite young artists you follow?

I would suggest you have a look at my Flickr account. I started my creative process as a fan of my culture; forty something years later, nothing has changed.

A couple of years ago you collaborated on a giant mural in Chelsea with Brazilian duo Os Gemeos; do you have any plans for upcoming public artworks?

Quite possibly that highly visible wall on Houston Street. 

What's the next project you'll be working on?

 A book with Rizzoli set for fall 2014.

Futura's exhibition "Future Shock" at 560 Washington Street runs September 6-October 1.