Street Art Decoded

 

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Last week I had the chance to sit down with Mr. AbiLLity, and this is what transpired. Enjoy!

JCG: How did you get into this?

Mr. AbiLLity: As a kid, I loved to draw and still do.  I got into painting a year and a half ago, trying different styles, and really got into spray painting. I like having a can instead of a brush. For the most part, I like to draw in pen, occasionally marker, and ya know, spray paint here and there (laughs).

JCG: You have a lot of work around here for only working a year and a half.

A: Whenever I go out, the plan is never to do one piece, it has to be four or five.

JCG: Why the name Mr. AbiLLity?

A: Before I started doing street art, I rhymed (and still do) and my rhyming name was AbiLLity. To me, the highest compliment is saying something is “Ill,” so I wanted to put that in my name. I was looking through a thesaurus thinking about how to tie “ill” with “skill.” Ability is a synonym for skill, and there you have it: Mr. AbILLity.

JCG: You have a lot of words and images. What would you say is your overall message? What are you trying to do?

A: If I had to sum it up, I would say it’s “Follow your dreams.” I think the number one problem in the whole world is that people don’t follow their passions. People do what they’re supposed to do: get a job, get a place. You have those things in mind that you want to do but never do. And then you have an emptiness and become bitter. It’s people like that that F the world up, because they’re not following their dreams, man. People following their dreams aren’t f-ing shit up.

Click below to read the rest of this involved interview and see more images…

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JCG: How do you choose your spots? 

A: I like to walk a lot, and when I stroll, I come across places that I think will be good. It’s planned. I try to do things that people will see, like by intersections.

JCG: I love the Beatles/Scientists Universe piece on Mountain.

A: That comes with a funny story {To be posted in full later}. I love the Beatles and I love great minds, those of the great scientists. I was like, “I’m gonna mix and mash these.” A lot of iconic street art is a mash of popular things, like the Mona Lisa mixed with something, so whenever you see it you’re instantly like, “Oh that”. And I wanted to do something that not only would I make regardless, but it’s going to have that feel to it that if you Googled it, it would pop up. That was my goal: “I’m going to make a Google picture.” So the idea hit me and I was working on stencils for a few weeks because they’re multi-layered and they’re so big, and it took about 7 hours painting that spot.

JCG: I wasn’t sure at first that it was yours, because it’s different from other things you’ve done.

A: This was a departure from my other stuff, most of which is storybook for a child.

JCG: You have a daughter.

A: Yes, she’s about to turn nine. She is exactly like me; we think alike.

JCG: And she gets it?

A: She not only gets it, I’ll give her a marker. One time I was walking with her, “Look what I can do with this marker,” and tagged a pole “I heart you.” She said, “I wanna do it,” so a couple of blocks later, we found a spot. I said, “Make it nice.” She takes the marker and writes “Hello World. I heart you” and signed it.

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JCG: Do you worry about people knowing it’s you?

A: I don’t care if they know; I just worry about getting in trouble. This weekend I was painting a utility box, which was commissioned by City Hall. It was as typical me as it gets—flowers, happy faces, butterflies, super colorful. As I was signing my tag (ill signature) in the stem of a flower, the cop approached. I explained and he said, “Just had to check, because in North Bergen they just graffitied this big wall, and it’s nice graffiti, but without permission, it’s still just graffiti.” I thought, Don’t talk about nice graffiti. I don’t want my face associated with the art when it comes to authorities. I may need an alias. He didn’t really get into it, but was just like “It’s really popular in the city,” and of course he was referencing Banksy, but Banksy can do whatever the F he wants.

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JCG: Speaking of Bansky and utility boxes, can you clear the rumors about the utility box with windows on Monmouth? That’s a “Hell, no,” right?

A: Hell no. I’m immersed in this, and there are literally hundreds of street artists, but everyone thinks everything is Banksy because that’s the most popular name associated with it. While I was painting that utility box, an old lady came up and asked, “Are you Banksy?” I don’t know who did that [assumed Banksy box], but I think there’s no way it’s him because he’s so freaking good. Regular people don’t know about it, they just know what they hear and Banksy’s the name.

JCG: Are you and other artists fighting for the same walls?

A: Not really. Aerosol attracts aerosol. If there’s paint on the wall, it’s like a message board. You’re talking to each other, and you’re talking to the community.

JCG: Your sunshine is covered up now.

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(Abillity)

A: The dude who did that is Mustart. He’s incredible. I recently got cool with him and would love to be his apprentice, because he’s a goddamn master and I want to be where he’s at. He texted me a picture of the sun and said, “No disrespect.” I said, “Good, I don’t want there to be disrespect.” I didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about, but it turns out the woman who owned the building asked him to paint a mural. I asked, “Are you there now?” and I swung by and kicked it with him while he was painting it.

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 (Mustart)

JCG: It’s a pretty great piece. There are a lot of rundown spots around here, but they’re just covered with tags.

A: At first, I despised tags in general, because to me that’s a signature, but you’re not signing anything, so what are you doing?

JCG: And it’s not art. Or is it? How do you define art?

A: I don’t agree with what some people consider art, and I don’t even mean graffiti, I just mean art in general. There’s abstract expressionism.

JCG: And conceptual art. Like the piece where there’s a chair in front of a wall with the definition behind it.

A: That’s bullshit. Super-bullshit. Art is similar to music. In music, I may have a song that I actually love when I’m in the mood for it, and that same song I may fucking hate if I’m in a different mood. It’s all about perception. In art, maybe I’m fucking having the worst day of my life, and I come across a painting that’s just a bunch of blue splattered smashes. On a normal day, I would say, “What the fuck? Did someone drop something? This is ridiculous.” It’s all about how you view it. Something I totally hate on a regular day, I may be able to appreciate, depending on the challenges of life itself.

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JCG: What is your favorite piece that you’ve done to date and why?

A: I’m going to take it from a piece and change it to a wall. Right on Newark Ave., there’s a wall. At first, I put a stencil with Autumn leaves that said “We all fall sometimes.” I chose that wall because I used to live there with my daughter’s mom, it was our home, and we had fallen. We all fall sometimes. I picked that wall because a) we used to live there b) that wall had a bunch of tags on it, and then they cleaned it and c) It would be nice to do something on this wall because it means something to me.

Then, it rocked for a while, so I thought, “Maybe they appreciate it and I can go bigger.” I decided, on the opposite wall, to put a little garden of flowers: a heart flower, a peace flower, a music note flower. I put it as Ill’s Garden. It rocked for a while, and I thought I’m going to make this my wall; my bitch; I’m going to own it. 

There was this big middle space, and before I could do anything, someone tagged it with the word “Coke,” or something stupid. I thought, “Ah, shit.” But they cleaned it, yet they left up my previous stuff (my shit). So I thought, “They want me to do something.” And the thing is, I used to live there and the landlord is an old grumpy guy, so if the grumped-out landlord can appreciate it, then I’m gonna go for the last piece. So I wrote in handwriting “love,” but I made it plants. It’s two flowers that spell love and it’s the whole wall behind it and the whole story behind it.

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JCG: I was walking up Newark and saw something on the side of a bridge thinking, “How that artist even get there?”

A: Some of these guys are ninjas.

JCG: Your stuff is on most blocks. Can’t believe it’s only been a year and a half.

A: Half of my shit is dead; it’s not even there anymore. Life is short.

JCG: That’s part of the game.

A: I have to learn—and I’m trying to come to terms—especially since I talked to Mustart. Sometimes things get erased because they’re property, owned, but one of my pieces got hated on. I had a message: If you believe in yourself half as much as I do, you’d be unstoppable. The person didn’t clean the building, he just crossed it out. I was like, this guy’s got issues. I texted Mustart and he was like, “Dude, yo, as soon as you put it out there, you gotta learn, it’s not yours anymore.”

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I met this other guy, “Dave L. Designs,” He did a big magnolia mural. Big, gigantic murals. He’s been painting for five or six years. These guys give me a glimpse into what I could be painting, and I get so excited. I can learn! They know what they’re doing. I want to know what they’re doing too!

JCG: Well a lot of people think you do know what you’re doing. You’re one of the most prominent artists out there.

A: You know what it is? It’s the positivity; it’s the energy. Usually, in graffiti, they’re talking to other graffiti cats, because sometimes, they’re not even legible. You can only read the tag if you’re familiar with handstyles or you know it already, so they talk to each other, but I’m trying to talk to everybody. I’m not trying to speak in the language of a graffiti artist. I’m trying to speak to whoever happens to look at the wall.

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JCG: Is there anything else you want to tell me that I didn’t ask you?

A: Yes. I want to let you know that right now…my flowers and butterflies, this happiness…I do too much; it’s bugging me, and in a major way. I’m not going to stop that, but it’s not going to be the only thing I do. I want to expand. Everyone gets sick of their favorite foods. I need to eat some different types of food.

I have a dark side. I want to do more lyrics, song quotes, quotes in general with images, because I love that. My pieces will always convey some type of message, but it’s not always going to be, “Hey, smile!” Because I don’t want to smile all the time. Sometimes I’m pissed off. Sometimes I’m aggravated, or I’m annoyed. I’m gonna do some darker shit. I’m sick of the happiness. I want to be well-rounded, because I’m a human being.  Everything in life needs downs. There is no up without down. Sometimes I feel like shit and I want to paint that I feel like shit on a wall, because sometimes other people feel like shit, too.

There was one piece I did that I think was my saddest piece of all, but people view it optimistically, and like I said, it’s all about perspective. I made my heart guy, and I made him look all sad, but on the wall, I wrote, “I still believe in happily ever after, but I don’t know why.” Because it’s true.

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People repost that and I’ll get comments such as, “Man, this changed my whole day. I had to sit down and think,” so I know that it hits people. Positive or negative.  Anything I paint will have meaning and will still hit people.

Everything I do is a visual sentence (in Mustart’s words). Maybe I put the words there at times, but everything I’m making is something I believe in. 

People kind of freaked when I said I’m gonna go darker.

JCG: Because we need your sunshine!

A: But even the sunshine goes away every day. I went out painting the other day with some friends in Newark, I need to show you, and I had an idea for what I was going to do, and everyone was opposed, like I couldn’t be mad. “But you’re so inspiring, you’re the uplifting one, you can’t be mad.” Why can’t I be mad? [He shows me the new fab piece on his phone.] But I love it. I did an ice-cold frozen heart, with a big F-You in it. Because I’m sick of love all this love shit, and the worst thing is, even though deep down I’m a romantic. I love love. I want to whisper sweet nothings into someone’s ear. And I know it’s going to happen, and there’s no problem, I’m patient enough to wait for her. But all these people are posting my stuff and tagging their names and saying, “I love you babe.” Everyone’s all loving around and I get so mad. Enough of the love! But I realize that is my fault for putting that out there. I should actually be mad at me for painting the love; because I’m the one doing the love and they’re just riding off of it. I’m just sick of love. The repetition of all my happy little shit, I’m not gonna preach hate.

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There’s a quote from a Batman flick: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain,” and that’s been a recent inspiration and I’ll be putting the “ill” in the villain with the Bat symbol. That’s not really dark, per se, but it’s just not happy little trees all the time. And I’m feeling like I need to get this “Fuck you,” out right now.

JCG: I get it. We’re not perfect little angels all of the time.

A: There’s this quote I saw that said, “If I didn’t have a dark side, then I couldn’t have hope.”

 For more art, follow Mr. AbiLLity on instagram

To hear about Abillity’s crazy almost-got-caught story about painting “Life is a Gift,” stay tuned. Sound from our convo will be posted soon. Plus exclusive clips on technique, inside guys, getting hated on and what’s going on in Jersey City.

Don’t hate the paint,
JCG

 

 

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