Once in a while you walk into an art gallery in Bushwick and see something you really like. Then there are those times when you walk into a room and see a well-hung piece and say to yourself, "Jesus-Mother-Loving-Christ...... That's fucking awesome."
Recently I had the pleasure of this reaction courtesy of a gentleman going by Criminy Johnson (also "QRST") during Bushwick Open Studios as part of Curbs and Stoops' Stay Gold exhibition. His artwork usually teeters on the edge somewhere between creepy and lovable, or, surreal and familiar. I felt it was my duty to gain some access to his psyche and post what I learned for all to read here at The Bushwick Dream.
The Bushwick Dream: How did you come up with "QRST" and how the hell am I supposed to pronounce it?
QRST: It's a secret. it's pronounced either "QRST" or "qrst," both are acceptable. (ha)
TBD: I love the way you illustrate peoples' faces...... I especially like the giant eyes and deep glares that come from your characters. What is your inspiration for such massive eyes and expressiveness?
QRST: Eyes and eye contact and direction of gaze are obviously really expressive parts of faces, and so it feels natural to exaggerate or intensify those aspects of figures. Also I've always just enjoyed rendering eyes and they usually just feel like they should be big... it sometimes seems like making large intense eyes makes an entire piece so strong that it's almost like cheating. When I was painting more animals than people, the eyes ended up really large and dark, and I think some of that carried over to the people that I've been making recently. I could ramble on about eye contact and animal behavior and art history but i think that it would be a boring read.
TBD: How long do you nomally spend on any particular piece? What's the longest and shortest?
QRST: For outside pieces the big ones generally take around 30 or 40 hours. The really little guys i can usually make in an hour or two. The most time-consuming outside piece was probably the two guys with the trains and I think that ran into 60+ hours.
TBD: They just covered up the "Man with Glasses - Rat Feet - With a Kitty" piece you did. How do you feel when someone covers your artwork? Does it piss you off more when it's covered with a flat color as opposed to another artist tagging over it?
QRST: Ugh! I try not to be overly disappointed when something gets destroyed or painted over, but if they have a really short run and something was up in a good spot where it was going to last, it's a little tougher to take. Really, though, I'm glueing them to a wall, outside, they're not going to last forever. I don't know which is worse, tagged or buffed, neither is worth getting angry about, though. I also had the advantage of beginning my wheat-pasting life in San Francisco, where a really solid run was two or three weeks, so on a certain level I'm always just glad to see it still there the next day when I show up to take more pictures.
TBD: Have you ever covered someone's work over on purpose or out of spite, you know, just because you hate that fucker?
QRST: No, I usually try to be pretty polite. Besides, my guys take too long to make to get into a contest with someone, because I won't win.
TBD: If you weren't doing street art and paintings and such what would you be doing?
QRST: Uhmmm.... watching cartoons.... astrophysics.... I don't know. Probably something strange.
TBD: Why did you choose Bushwick? Are you gonna stick around for a while or you looking to grab your bindle and hit the tracks?
QRST: My friend and I were just looking for lofty live/work kind of places when we arrived in New York, and Morgan/Jefferson seemed to be relatively affordable and not overly dangerous, so it just kind of happened that way. I like my newest landlord and I don't have any plans to leave so...
TBD: What's next on your immediate agenda? Any exciting new plans we should be looking forward to?
QRST: I'm going to put something up in the LES when I get back into town with some other folks (General Howe, Quel Beast, Bishop203, Laura Meyers, some others I'm forgetting). Joe [Franquinha], the guy who puts together Crest Fest every year, has this backyard timeshare project going on... I guess someone's turning a vacant lot on Ludlow into a rentable yard, and he's getting a bunch of people to put up work. Unfortunately both my piece and I are going to miss the opening. Nothing concrete beyond that. Painting as much as I can.
TBD: If you could meet one artist living or dead who would it be and why?
QRST: I can't think of a good answer for this question. Anyone worth using a magic interview wish to meet would end up being a disappointment, right? I'm going to wish for cookies, or for next winter to be less terrible.
TBD: Did you have fun with us at Pearl's the other night? I can't remember a lot of it.
QRST: Yes, I hadn't been there before...... and me neither.