The latest episode of in-depth conversation series, The Electric Theater, features an at length discussion with artist, curator, filmmaker and graffiti culture ambassador, Roger Gastman.
Dissecting street art, murals, and graffiti as the three elements associated with the medium, Gastman explained that while the first two are the more socially-accepted vehicles of the culture, graffiti, at it’s core is about “the shit that isn’t supposed to be there.”
Asserting his respect for how the art has since become more accepted, Gastman recalled when he first became immersed in the culture and how graffiti, specifically, the vandalism of tags on stop signs and etchings in the bathroom mirror resonated most with him.
Explaining that the core of the artform is primarily letter-based and primarily revolves around tagging a name with frequency, that original sentiment of what wasn't supposed to be is what made the world so intriguing.
As for the element of danger associated with the craft, Gastman conceded there is an inherent risk that comes with the territory. The practice is illegal and to do it, the writer has to operate in less than ideal working conditions. However, he further explained the the real thrill for practitioners is fueled more by a desire to see their name run anywhere and everywhere above all else - a unique formula of achieving fame while remaining elusive.
Gastman would delve deeper into the subculture by explaining that there is an unspoken code that is generally understood by practitioners. Things like "spot-jocking" tagging over someone else are blatant signs of disrespect. Among those that are familiar, these instances are cause for conflict that transition from spray cans and public canvases to real life fisticuffs.
Outside of that, Gastman explains graffiti writers don't operate under any set of rules. No surface is too sacred and while monuments and houses of worship are usually spared, ethics take a beat seat to the ultimate goal of running your name any and everywhere. In this particular case, defacing property provides and an ends to a means,
Equipped with a lifetime of expertise, Gastman began his career path by immersing herself in the graffiti culture as a teenager. Gastman’s passion for the craft was coupled with an insatiable thirst for knowledge. From his earliest days writing anywhere he could in Washington D.C., the young vandal would also collect tangibles and consume the history associated th subculture, developing a through understanding of the regional and social context.
Connecting with friends in bands, Gastman would travel outside of his hometown and ventured out to destinations like New York, Miami, Chicago, each city providing a new understanding of the culture.
By the time he was 19, Gastman had began his own counter-culture publication called While You Were Sleeping and cultivated a network of contacts that further entrenched him in the culture. As his passion turned into a career, Gasteman, while remaining in relevant in the streets, also ventured into the world of museums to showcase his cultural contributions - as did his contemporaries.
From the magazine, Gasteman became prolific in the word of publishing, releasing some 50-60 books primarily focused on graffiti. As a collector and a historian of the culture, Gasteman’s analytical approach made him a more than qualified ambassador of the craft.
Utilizing his expertise in marketing and branding, coupled with his unparalleled knowledge of the history, Gastman would eventually go on to curate his own independently produced show in Beyond the Streets. The Los Angeles installment saw more than 100,000 attendees and featured more than 100 artists. The Williamsburg edition was the scope of two New York City blocks, featured some 100 artists with again, more than 100,000 attendees that walked the exhibition space.
Embracing the metric of “rule breakers and mark markers” as the criteria for participating artists, Gasteman explains that his passion is to educate through entertainment. The artists that he works with and aims to showcase are like-minded in that regard.
The throughout discussion ranged from creative integrity to ethical vandalism in a way that was illuminating. Gastman proved an articulate advocate of not just the graffiti culture but for passionate creatives that think unconventionally.
Listen to the complete conversation with clown of Slipknot and Roger Gastman on the latest edition of The Electric Theater.