My Spray Can Tour part 1. with Stern Rockwell
Hong Kong was the “business” side of my Asian adventure trip 2016. 4 weeks of travel, 3 major destinations with 3 others slipped in for kicks and fucket list scratch offs.
Having grown up in Chinatown NYC I have a strong fondness to many things Asian, the foods, the cultures, the ladies so having this opportunity to visit the (Asian) mother-land was very exciting. I had been researching the burgeoning urban arts scene prior to my trip and was eager to see it in action. Not many cities in the world can boast a thriving spray paint culture but Hong Kong has that and more!
I reached out to A&D HS alum Stern Rockwell who has for years now made HK his home. It’s always best to travel strange new worlds when there’s a friendly face to greet you and help get you acclimated. I would have said that Stern and I before this trip were just acquaintance’s bonded by mutual friends so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I reached out, maybe he could care less about entertaining an aging spray paint survivor who would rather be at happy hour than breathing in those intoxicating spray can fumes but in Stern’s own words I have to say, daaaaaaaaamn!
He embraced me and my sometimes archaic views of graffiti with open arms and I’m greatly thankful to him. He secured the wall we would later paint and introduced me around town and made me feel welcome. Graffiti cats can sometimes be territorial, or so I have heard that.
Stern’s artwork and style are similar to his demeanor; I would describe that as chill and flowy, backed by boldness. He specializes more in characters and calligraphic stroke more so than lettering with made me excited for a collab because my love always lies in the letters, so I thought a collab with Stern could produce some amazing results and I’m glad to say I was correcto.
Stern’s style, as I mentioned, is based in boldness, he has a confidence to his stroke that lays a shape to a character. Maybe that shape resembles an avocado or maybe a blockhead but that seems to be his architectural plan as he builds up the nuances, the expressions of each particular shape, stroke by stroke. I secretly watched him soften these bold shapes into highly individual characters, avocado? No more, now it’s the old Jewish guy from Delaney Street I used to buy my leather MCs from. I could almost hear his LES nasaly whine, I named him Ira. Another shape became an Asian “Mugsy” guy, complete with extended jawbone and beanie cap. A tough little big guy standing probably about 5’1” with shoes on I easily imagined. Stern’s characters exude life, their expressions make you question who are they, what pissed them off and even how could they come to be here together. That’s the great thing about these characters. You know them, all of them.
So yes, I had a blast and I have to thank Beats/Beef and Liberty for green lighting the mural at their pop up at PMQ center because had they not offered the wall space I would be sampling dim sum all over HK.
Mostly I want to thank Louisa, a tiny whirlwind of energy that’s wickedly contagious in every good way. Every good project needs a facilitator and through my eyes she was that one, laying out drop cloths and such, facilitating mandatory happy hours and giving especially great hugs! I will always look forward to any project with her name attached. I have had many facilitators in my storied past that just flat out sucked so as it rained on each day of my trip in HK, Louisa was the ray of sun always trying to pop out from behind clouds. I wish I could understand more than half of what she says but her energy will def clue you into the right direction!
So the stage was set, 2 long walls broken up by doorways in the middles allowed us basically 4 separate but connected walls. I am not your typical graffiti artist, I don’t care to write my name over and over and rather I prefer to choose a meaningful or cool word instead. These 4 walls screamed to me A.S.I.A. Walls screamed to me, I screamed to Stern, Asia, a piece done decades ago on the NY MTA system by the style general himself, Dondi White, sadly RIP way, too young. But before he left us mortals, he left us a style guide that has influenced just about everyone with a spray can in hand in some way or another so as Stern said, Dondi brought “Asia” to the MTA, the MTA brought Asia, as well as hundreds and hundreds of other styles by Dondi all around NYC and to me and I am honored to paint this word, loosely based on Dondi’s original, translated through our hands into Asia. All the way from Brooklyn.
I wish we had just 1 more day to add to this piece but openings wait for no artist and ultimately, my new homie, Mr. Stern Rockwell and I created something that did not exist before. Something with meaning, based on Dondi’s piece. Something special in the form of a collaboration that began 3 decades ago rooted in a small, special place called Art & Design High School where 2 aspiring graffiti fledglings would journey out into their careers only to now join creative forces in Hong Kong.
I wish I had more days in HK because I was really hoping to experience the HK walls project get under way but the constant rains would thwart that. I sure hope to get out again next year to try it all again!
I wish I had one more day but I’m so happy I had the days I got to paint with legend Stern Rockwell and experience the network of wonderful people. I hope my following journeys match this one.