Freshness Interview: INFAMY [The Movie] + CLAW

By - November 4th, 2006

Freshness Interview: INFAMY [The Movie] + CLAW

Interview with DOUG PRAY the director of INFAMY
Interview by Tom Bradley
Produced by Liquidrice

Doug Pray’s last documentary was 2001’s Scratch, a behind-the-scenes look into the world of hip-hop DJs and ‘turntablism. This most recent documentary is an intense journey into the lives, minds and families of seven individuals who are obsessed with graffiti and follow that obsession into the most unexpected places. The film covers LA’s SABER, New York’s EARSNOT and CLAW, Phily’s ENEM, LA’s TOOMER and SF’s JASE. There’s also Joe Connolly the man who makes the removal of Los Angeles graffiti his daily passion. Tom Bradley recently sat down for a Q&A with Doug Pray and CLAW on this exciting new documentary.


How was it making a serious documentary about an art form immortalized so many years ago in the legendary STYLE WARS film?

Graffiti is an amazing subject for a documentary film, so there’s plenty of room for more takes on the culture. Style Wars is the classic doc and of course I love it. It’s quite different from INFAMY, only because graffiti was so new and fresh to culture back then, it was literally discovering it and has now become the ultimate document of that period of time. INFAMY goes in with the full assumption that everyone sees graffiti all the time and whether you love it or hate it, it’s a part of our landscape. I didn’t set out to tell the history of graffiti, or to say anything about the state of graffiti in America in 2006. I didn’t try to set it into a larger framework such as hip-hop or street-art or any movement at all. Instead, I just wanted to get deep into the minds and motivations of a handful of life-long serious graffiti writers in a way that hadn’t before.

When you first set out to do a documentary highlighting the drive and lifestyle of several renowned artists working with graffiti what did you believe about the graffiti artist and the form itself?

Having spent a fair amount of time documenting other aspects of hip-hop culture, I thought I knew a lot about graffiti. But in fact, I knew almost nothing. So I had a lot to learn before I began filming. Like many others, I liked murals and pieces, didn’t appreciate tagging, thought graffiti was “just another element of hip-hop”. It may be for some, but I just didn’t really appreciate the dues that true writers have to pay. The years of getting their name up, the importance of tagging, what crews mean to a writer, all that.

Freshness Interview: INFAMY [The Movie] + CLAW
What impressed you the most about the artists and the manner in which they work and live?

All of the individuals in INFAMY are incredibly outspoken-they have a LOT to say, almost as if, by being incognito, they’ve not been allowed to speak for ten years. They were all great interviews. I was very impressed by how honest and revealing they were about their lives. Real graffiti writers (those who’ve been “up” for years and maintain their spots and have a rep) have all lived lives of hell to some degree or another. They’ve made a life choice that puts them in constant risk, be it from falling off a building, getting chased by cops, landing in jail frequently, being hated by society (Jase told me a story of some stranger walking up to him and just slugging him in the jaw a few months ago), breathing toxic fumes, on and on. What other art comes with such a high price? The fact that these writers made a conscious choice to live this life is what’s amazing. Like Toomer says, “I made my choice I accept the consequences.” For a documentary filmmaker like myself, these characters, their stories, and their art is rare and exhilarating.

Was the filming process difficult considering graffiti and its prerequisite of racking are illegal and most of the artists are performing their work against the law?

It took me a minute to realize that all graffiti writers rack all their paint and supplies, until I began filming them. Imagine if it were just assumed that all documentary filmmakers steal their tape stock and cameras! That’s how that seemed to me. In terms of filming them, my goal was to hang out with them for a few days, meet their friends and families, and follow whatever they do. It wasn’t my job to judge, I just wanted to portray their lives. Graffiti is illegal, so I knew what I was getting into.

Why do you think a beautiful calligraphic handstyle or well-executed throwie can incense authorities so effectively that they might create specific task forces hell bent on their eradication?

It doesn’t matter if it’s the Mona Lisa. If it’s on someone’s storefront it’s illegal and the authorities are supposed to eradicate it, they’re just doing their job. But the fact that it spreads and doesn’t seem to go away after buffing-that’s what really incenses them. Society begins to see it as a disease. It has nothing to do with the art or style itself.

Freshness Interview: INFAMY [The Movie] + CLAW

What do you think the impact of INFAMY will be on the next generation of writers who will mull over every deleted scene the DVD has to offer?

If there’s any message that I hope INFAMY carries to future generations of graffiti writers, it’s that graffiti can be beautiful and inspiring and cool, but if you really want to devote yourself to it, you are making a serious life-choice. “Real” graffiti has absolutely nothing to do with the media-generated “Saturday morning cartoon” concept of spray paint fun. The writers in INFAMY have bared their souls and shared with viewers what their lives have actually been like. It’s a mostly tormented picture they paint, and that’s why the film is so dark.

Graffiti seems to have one foot in the anti-establishment and the other in consumer culture. The North Face, polo, Nike and others owe much of their current success to the graffiti writers who made it cool to wear the brands while catching fame. Since artists like FUTURA 2000 and Stash have successfully moved on to their own clothing labels and freelance design work has a new arch become apparent that finds young graffiti artists hoping to catch fame in multiple mediums?

If established, life-long graffiti writers can find a way to profit from their style, more power to them. This is an individual choice. Likewise, if artists feel-in their souls– that they are selling out, then they are, and they shouldn’t do it. If they are thrilled by the idea of having millions see their spraypaint and shocked that someone is actually paying them for it, then they should enjoy it. Corporations will exploit all sub-culture, all style, and all art. They always have and they always will. That doesn’t make it okay, but it’s up to the artists to make that process good or bad.

With 2007 directly ahead and the first decade of the new millennium nearly in the books, where is the art headed stylistically and what is the American scene like these days?

I’m really not a graffiti expert and I’m bad at predicting trends. I do know that there’s a hell of a lot going on in Europe and around the world in graffiti right now. But again, INFAMY isn’t about the current trends or graffiti as a movement, it’s just an intimate portrait of seven people who are completely obsessed by writing.

There are certain dangers attached to getting up but as the years pass and you begin to branch out into other expressive media do you begin to take less risks?

Maybe artists take less risks physically and emotionally when they move from alley to canvas, but all artists need to keep taking risks, otherwise their art stagnates. The medium doesn’t matter, it’s what you’re expressing, not how you express it.

Freshness Interview: INFAMY [The Movie] + CLAW
Interview with Claw:

Why do you think a beautiful calligraphic handstyle or well-executed throwie can incense authorities so effectively that they might create specific task forces hell bent on their eradication?

They hate ugly graffiti too! The fact that it was done illegally is what bothers people, not whether or not it’s a specific style. Asserting yourself in a lawless way is what is making the authorities crazy, whether you’re pissing on the street, tagging a phonebooth or doing a fullscale piece.

Graffiti seems to have one foot in the anti-establishment and the other in consumer culture. The North Face, polo, Nike and others owe much of their current success to the graffiti writers who made it cool to wear the brands while catching fame. Since artists like FUTURA 2000 and Stash have successfully moved on to their own clothing labels and freelance design work has a new arch become apparent that finds young graffiti artists hoping to catch fame in multiple mediums?

It is a symbiotic relationship. One hand is washing the other; They are injected with some gangsterism, and we are paid money. Money has nothing to do with graffiti but graff is a medium that is being exploited on so many levels, so at least some of these companies are going after real graffiti artists, because many industries are plagued by fakes. Everybody wants a little street cred.

With 2007 directly ahead and the first decade of the new millennium nearly in the books, where is the art headed stylistically and what is the American scene like these days?

Graffiti is in turmoil right now. A lot of people feel like this is a quick way to get their name out there. I never wrote graffiti to put my throw-up on a t-shirt. It just happened to evolve that way, but I was doing it just to do it and it just happened that my two worlds merged this way and I am super lucky. The fact that this is a quick avenue for the next jump off makes it soulless and brings down the value of the movement and its art.

There are certain dangers attached to getting up but as the years pass and you begin to branch out into other expressive media do you begin to take less risks?

Because my work dominates most of my time, I just take the risks there, with my art and my label, as opposed to the more physical risks I would take on the street. With no risk, there is no reward, and I like to push the envelope in whatever I do.

What will CLAW, the lady, be interested in during the ‘07? What about CLAW the artist, tastemaker, and designer?

Funny you should ask, I have a lot of things going on right now as my company is really expanding. First, my book, BOMBSHELL from Powerhouse Books is dropping in early 2007. Secondly, as fashion editor of Swindle Magazine we are continuing to preserver as the most forward American art/fashion/lifestyle magazine out there. As far as my clothing line goes I have a lot of new things going on as well, as I am coming out with a new collection line, starting with vintage, reworked silk bomber jackets, and I am really going to be focusing on couture and one of a kind wearable art pieces. And of course, I will be dominating the streetwear scene with my CLAWMONEY line of graphic t’s, bags, eyewear, etc. I have some really exciting co-brands going on and there will be sneakers dropping in spring 2007, so keep your eyes peeled for those. Finally I am also moving into brand consulting and trying to help other people rework their brands so they can “get up” too.

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