"UFO" shares his own alienating experiences and how he used them as a stepping stone into the art world
Before his alien doodles dominated New York City, before he dropped the paintbrush and picked up the spray can, before he took the reins of notorious 907 graffiti crew, the artist they call "UFO907" was an art school drop out struggling to find his own place in this art world. Like many street artists, he's never publicly revealed his identity, but we recently spoke to him about the inspiration and the ideas behind "Zero to Hero"—his latest exhibition hosted in collaboration with Chin’s Gallery at Siam Discovery runing from now until Mar. 27.
How did you form 907?
Well, 907 is a collective crew of graffiti artists that have been around for 25 years. The group started before I was around. I met my mentor in this group, and an old friend who used to go by the moniker "Panda". These older writers [i.e. artists] arrived in New York City and later made a name for themselves, but the crew almost died down when several members disappeared. Some of them were arrested, others retired. So I came in and took the torch to become the next generation boss of the gang.
How did UFO 907 differentiate themselves from other graffiti arts crews?
A lot of traditional graffiti artists shunned us in the beginning. 907’s crew always stood on the edge of traditional graffiti. Unlike most illegible, wild graffiti arrows on the street produced from the conventional "muscle" graffiti guys, our work is expressionistic and reflect the artists’ individuality. We painted in a weird way and it stood out.
What’s the difference between street art and graffiti?
It’s the unpredictable risk you’re taking. You don’t ask permission to install your work on graffiti, and most of the time you have to work in unforeseen circumstances. The medium could be anything—from bricks, walls covered with vines, or even a moving truck. There was one time that I painted graffiti on the train and it started moving so I needed to wrap it up real quick. Street art, on the other hand, doesn’t have that kind of rush. Although it has become a big movement over the years, street artists have learned from clasic graffiti artists. They don’t have to beg art galleries to hang their pieces: the street is their art gallery.
Why did you choose to use UFO motifs in your work, and what does it signify?
Graffiti artists choose their own street names. I encountered one Japanese musical band called UFO (Unlimited Freak Out) while studying in art school. I took a liking to its no-bounds nature and later developed it into my own. Instead of writing words, I noticed that it would be more catchy if I put a UFO icon on my art. One thing is, I always feel this alien is my self-portrait—an alien, misfit visitor to different cultures. In the beginning, I was from a fine arts background when I hit the street with my expressionist pieces, people usually perceived me as a fine art weirdo. So that’s where it begins.
Why did you transition back to studio artwork instead of pure street art?
When I left the art school, the street became my studio and my gallery. A lot of those pieces, however, were illegal, carrying gallons of paint and sneaking in and out to escape being noticed. After 25 years on the street, it became exhausting, and I realized I needed to switch gear so I got back in a proper studio. It’s an amazing experience to come full circle. Now, I have a large studio with a woodshop and painting area.
What’s up with the title ‘Zero to Hero’? Is it meant to reflect your personal experience as an artist?
Only certain types of people go to the art gallery. These days, people can use social media to elevate themselves quickly. I’ve been pushing my artwork upfront for 25 years, and it was a long road before I can get these pictures into viewers' minds. Now, people can go from zero to hero overnight. Street artists can promote themselves online and become world famous in a flash.
The Zero to Hero exhibition lasts until March 27. You can snag some merch, like shirts and painting prints, there as well.
Siam Discovery, 1/F, Tel 02 -658-1000 ext. 8204. Open 10am-10pm. BTS Siam
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