Bulk Styles is one of the artists featured in the Cultural Council’s current exhibition, “X Marks the Spot,” and as a featured artist at The Satellite. We asked him a few questions about his process, the relationship between arts and activism, his inspirations, and what’s next for his career.
Can you tell us about your background and career as an artist?
Bulk Styles (BS): As a young kid, I spent a majority of my time in my mother’s art gallery/frame shop in New Jersey. Most days, I’d be playing basketball in the back of her shop with my sister and cousins, which allowed my mom to get work done…while also driving her and her employees nuts, I’m sure. I was a wild child. My mom’s art gallery was a creative environment for me and because I was introduced to all types of artwork at such an early age…I developed as a precocious young man. A short time after moving to Florida in 2000, I was doing the typical things a young kid in middle school would do—skateboarding, video games, paintball—but it wasn’t until 6th or 7th grade that I was introduced to the art form of graffiti at my local skate park, It was at that moment that I had made a connection and, really, a desire to focus my attention on the art world. The colors and the culture spoke to me in volumes. I felt as if it existed for me. Everything I was doing before came to a complete stop when I was introduced to graffiti. I knew, right then and there, that I had found my true calling. I remember running home and drawing my family and friend’s names…the best part was seeing their reactions. I was hooked! Up to that moment, nothing ever made me feel more excited or inspired to want to be someone. I knew then that becoming an artist was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was motivated to make a name for myself with graffiti and art in general. Ten years later, I’m still here working on that same goal with more love, passion, drive and willingness to keep learning and pushing myself to progress as an artist.
Give us a description of your process, from first idea/inspiration to the final touch of paint.
BS: My inspiration comes from many outlets—it could be images associated with topics I’m passionate about, to having a really good conversation with someone, or the right song coming on at just the right time. Painting for me [is] just starting and not knowing when to stop. I just go until I feel the piece is where it should be. It’s a simple process for me because I make it that way for myself. If I’m not feeling it…I don’t beat myself up. I leave it for another day. That way, it somehow always leaves my paintings ‘wanting’ more, but being totally content with how they are. And with that, my search is able to continue.
Tell us a bit about the piece that you’ve created for “X Marks the Spot.”
BS: I always had this idea that it would be really cool to have pieces in a show that weren’t created in my studio and then brought to a gallery, but instead creating them inside the gallery for that particular show. I decided to hang five blank canvases and paint my mural and its pieces simultaneously to allow the space and energy to dictate the outcome of the piece. I wanted to create something that, from far away looked, like one piece…but my real goal was to make it so that the five individual canvases could also stand on their own. Somehow, even with my hectic schedule, I was able to make something that made sense in a moment of chaos. To see the result, I am very pleased and relieved at the same time!
Who are some artists that you look up to?
BS: I won’t mention any names…just because there are too many to name and I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out. I’ll put it this way…I look up to anyone who believes in themselves and has dreams and goals and works tirelessly, day in and day out, on their craft with little to no return for their hard work. I look up to the people who doubt themselves constantly but continue to keep going. I look up to people that encourage those people. I look up to those who suffer for their work because they know deep down inside what they are doing is truly right for them. That sums up any one of my artist friends that you see me create alongside…those are the people I look up to.
You’re also featured in the Council’s Satellite space in CityPlace. There, you’ve included references (Tom from “Tom & Jerry,” the crocodile, etc.) from the world of pop culture. Is there any reason you’ve included these characters and, if so, why are they included?
BS: I use Tom and Jerry in a lot of my work to show people that we spend too much time beating up on one another, rather than showing the people we live for how much they mean to us. After all it’s not just Tom [causing trouble], it’s Tom and Jerry. Whether they know it or not, they exist for one another. I’d like to think they know that. And though Tom and Jerry spent most of their days at each other’s throats, there were always those small hints of true concern for one another. Perhaps they would take a prank too far and you would catch a small glimpse of true friendship. I feel that’s the way a lot of us navigate through life. We spend more time dwelling on what irritates us instead of what makes us happy. They say it’s the people you love that are the ones who hurt you the most…a very hard concept to accept.
And as far as the alligators, I use them to represent longevity in my work. They’ve been around for over 200 million years and will probably be around longer than us. It’s a good representation of the life that I hope my work gets the chance of living.
The medium of mural and graffiti art tends to get mixed up with the world of “activist art.” Do you see yourself as an artist, an activist, both, or neither?
BS: Quite frankly, I don’t see myself as any of those things. Graffiti is such a broad term and I find it extremely difficult to try to define myself and my work with that word. Besides, I don’t think I would do it any justice. And activist? No! I by no means push any type of political agenda through my work. We see enough of that on a daily basis. I don’t want to condone any more of that than we’re already subjected to. You could just turn on your TV for that. Although art plays a huge role in bringing about change, I would rather leave that out of my work. I want people to look at my work at face value, with no hidden messages or agendas. I want them to walk away from my pieces forming their own opinions and their own thoughts…good or bad. I don’t want to do anyone’s thinking for them. I want to keep it honest. ‘Artist,’ to me, sounds a bit presumptuous. I see myself as more of a curious person and a risk-taker. To answer your question, I am a dreamer.
What’s next for you and your work?
BS: That’s up to the universe to decide. I just go with it.
Anything else you’d like to communicate to the Cultural Council, its members or other artists in the community?
BS: I’d like to thank the Cultural Council and its members who have worked tirelessly and graciously to give us a very strong platform to showcase our work to the community. It means the world to us! I’d also like to thank anyone who has ever encouraged, believed and trusted in me and also motivated me. I’d also like to thank those who discouraged and doubted me and told me I’d never amount to anything. You know, the “get a real job!” people. Their advice can be just as valuable if you learn how to understand it.
I want to say thank you to my mom for when I told her “I think I’m going to quit my job and try to do my artwork” and her reply was “No, no, no…you are going to quit your job and go do your artwork.”
To my fellow artists or anyone who’s currently in doubt..we are in a world that has no problem telling us what it thinks we should do. All that really matters is that you do what you think you should do. If you truly believe wholeheartedly in what you are doing is the right thing for you, whatever that may be, the rest of the world will take notice. Give them no other option but to believe that you know what you are doing is what’s right for you. Don’t spend all of your time telling yourself how it’s “not going to happen.” That gets you nowhere fast. Believe in yourself and your work and your vision, even when no one else will! It’s easier, more effective, and in today’s crazy expensive consumer world, it’s free. If you see someone down, pick them up. If you see someone in pain, make them feel better leaving you than when they did when they came to you. Make people laugh. Be good to animals. After all, they ‘get it’ more than we do. Most importantly…be you.