Interview Evan Roth (Part 2)


By Vincent Morgan |  Published on Monday, February 6, 2012.

In this second part of Evan Roth's interview, we discuss his influences and ongoing projects.

FatCap : Who are your models when it comes to programming, your favorite languages and technical inspirations?

Evan Roth : It's an interesting question as i'm gotten less and less interested in programming lately think there is exciting things going on, a lot of interestings stuff with javascript right now, and how all this html canvas stuff is allowing javascript to this huge new life on the web.

I stopped programming for a long time because I realised I knew people who do it better than me and I just get angry and grumpy when I did it, but I've been programming more and more lately because I love the web. As much as I love graffiti I really really love the web and alot of the code I was writting, all the code that was used to build these pieces in the studio, are stand alone applications. They are not really webbased. I can put them on a website for people to download them but it isn't that kind of share browser stage happening and with processing dot gs or alot of these tools that are allowing visual programmers to create stuff that live natively in the browser instead of software packages that you need to double click and run off your hardrive. That's exciting to me to the point I'm starting to reprogram again a little bit more.

FC : Which are the graffiti artists or actors from the movement that are in your opinion the most impressive or noteworthy?

Good question. There are so many. Because my love affair with graffiti was so related to what I saw esveryday, walking in the city, I was always more interested in who I saw on the street versus who I saw online or in magazines. A lot of people influence me and not necessarly big names. People that just happened to be the ones that were up in New York when I was living there. I really like Katsu for instance and I collaborated with him a lot. I just came back from New York and you can go accross the Manhattan bridge and the train and you see his name on every single upright. Or if you walk around Soho, you see his stickers on every single crosswalk sign. So he has the all the right kind of pieces down and he has been doing it for so long that he really, really knows what he's doing but he also isn't affraid of experimenting in a sense of what is outside of what is traditionally graffiti and gives you handshakes in the graffiti community.

I mean he has all that but won't be affraid of doing weird videos or he rented a U-haul truck and just wrote "Katsu best graffiti artist in New York" in big blockletters on the sides and just drove around. So he rented a U-Haul truck for probably something like 50$ a day and just drove around Manhattan in it. It's brilliant.

Katsu Graffiti

I'm also really interested in documentation and he's done some really interesting things in that field too. He did a graffiti version of Eames' movie « The powers of 10 ». It starts when he's just writting with a pin tip on a grain of rice his tag and keeps zooming out, and out, and out, and on the last shot, he's painting with a fire extinguisher from a tourist helicopter he rented and he flew over a building to tag the whole block of a rooftop. He's just doing all the things you are supposed to do in graffiti, but not only. He is doing them in a way that is really calculated and smart. He also has some of that crossover appeal I'm really into.

The Powers Of Katsu

The graffiti taxonomy piece I just came back from NYC because it's in the Moma right now and, for me, beyond being excited I work there, which is awesome of course, I really like that there is tags in the Moma right now from like all my friends. Graffiti writers can go there and see it on the walls and get excited about it but my mom will come to to the opening and be like "oh, I get it, it's cool" and I think Katsu wears a lot of that too. The videos he does are not geared only for the people inside the community even though he's taking trains and catching tags that are just for them specifically. He is thinking outside of it as well.

Urban Data

KATSU: Graffiti Analysis 2.0
from Evan Roth.

Ok, and I'd be lying if I wasn't influenced by Banksy also even though it's probably not that cool to say so, he's been a major influence. One of the reasons I went back to graduate school is seeing a single Banksy piece. I went in a talk and someone showed that piece where a car parks over a crosswalk and he paints over the car, a very old Banksy piece but I just hadn't thought of things in that way before and when I saw that I was amazed and thought "there is so much more room there". From there I started looking at his work and I still think there is a lot of work he does that is pretty brilliant.

Banksy Urban Data

FC : And outside from graffiti and programming who are the people you look up to? What are your principal source of inspirations?

Oh, I have a lot of sources of influences. I grew up skateboarding in Michigan, listening to rap music in a suburb and that was my first introduction to the remix culture and sampling and all these things that kind of cord with what I do now in a way.

But I'm also really influenced by, not necessarily the code side of it, but the developpement process that happens with Open Source software. I've never programmed any code for Linux before for instance but the philosophy that led to its devellopment I take a lot of inspiration from. The kind of idea that a group of people for no money can get together and build an operating system, one of the most complicated digital system of our era to me is very inspiring. But then also, the simple way they used to get there is also super interesting and influenced directly a lot of the art I make wether it's in graffiti or wether it's on the web or just general.

A lot of times I'll be reading about how Linux developed and will be looking at people like Richard Stallman or Linus Torvalds or a lot of these people that are considered as hackers in the more traditionnal sense and try applying what they do to things outside of the technology circles.

Stallman Richard

I really look at graffiti as hacks. Completly. I view graffiti writers as hackers. People that exploit systems for their own means. They do exactly the same things that people in the computer programming world would be doing. I also think this idea of hack extens to so many things. I see it everywhere I look at all these little devious switches you can flip that can completly change what something was before. Like in Hip Hop the idea of just scratching a record had to be at one point a huge mental flip and I kind of see it as a hack, using a tool for something it wasn't intended for and use it for something completly different which is what Katsu does when he fills his fire extinguisher with paint. It's all about when you built your own tools, and beyond graffiti, it is, as in a part of our practice, what I try to have my head in a lot.

FC : What do you listen to these days?

I'm a big Hip Hop fan but I'm litterally not reading all the rap blogs as much as I should be just because I don't have much time. Let me see what's on my phone. Shabazz Palaces' last album is one of the best rap album I heard in a long time, Kanye's new album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is ridiculous, it's so good there is no way to say it's not good. I still have every Biggie album and evey Jay Z album and I go back to that all the time. I went through all the Odd Future stuff and it took me a long time to come around some of that, but some I'm really really getting into it now. I got Dead Prez on here, I'm from that era too. The new Sujan Stevans album (The Age of Adz, ndlr) is awesome. There is some awesome beats in there. There's a side of me that still wants to get back into rap one day so I keep an ear out for good samples and I think Sufjan Stevens album is full of awesome untapped samples.

FC : Any nottable readings? What have I been reading lately?

I just got a New Yorker suscription so my book reading has gone down a bit. I recently read some nerdy stuff like I read an autorised biography on Richard Stallman who's biggest kind of hack is the GPL, this kind of share like idea that was his as he released software. Someone did a biography on him and it's really bizarre. He's like a really bizarre character. You feel like the world needs someone like him even though I really can't be him. I tried to get him involved in a project I was doing recently and before he would even look at the web page he would email me and ask me if every piece of the project was open source and he was like "I'm looking at the url and I see javascript here and if I click on this is all the library open source?" and I had to do all sorts of revision of things.

There is another book I keep coming back to called "The Cathedral and the bazaar", written by another hacker called Eric Raymond. Again on this idea of taking software developpement and using it as a metaphore for art, it's talking about the cathedral as this sort of top down architect designed planned thing that comes up from one person's brain and is perfect, and the bazaar is in fact what happens out in front of a church on weekends where it's all these actors bringing up their tents to sell dates or fruits or whatever and how this kind of conglomeration of just people working together with no structured planned, ends up turning into this civic self organized thing. So yeah, pretty nerdy stuff I guess, even without entering so much the code side of it all.

FC : 3 things you couldn't live without.

Hum, internet is definitly out there. Then, I would say airplanes. Ah, and, my wife.

FC : Your definition of Art.

The Art I like I tend to think of as visual evidences of an idea. The Art I see and I have that kind of "Oh damn I should have thought of that" moment or "that's so brilliant I should have thought of it". I'm more intrested in representation of creativity than beauty.

FC : Your definition of Science.

Without answering the question as I'm not sure I really have an answer on that one, I think it has something to do with research, which is something I also see as part of the Arts. For a long time I had a really hard time calling myself an artist because I felt what I was doing was more like research in developpment. For me Science is definitly about research.

FC : If you could ask on specific question to a graffiti artist what would it be and who would it be at?

Hum, I've tried to email Banksy a few time... Trying to remenber what I asked him... I think it's hard because I used to wanna reach out to my heros way more, work with them, collaborate with them and I kind of do that less and less now and just wanna have a beer or something with them. I do have heroes in that scene. I met Espo once when I was in NYC at a dinner but I didn't know what to say either. So I guess my question would now probably be "Do you wanna have a beer?".

Urban Data

FC : What are your ongoing projects and things you feel keen on doing in a neer future?

An ongoing project I'm really interested in? Well a lot the graffiti work I'm doing is archiving in a sense. From a data stand point. Physically it's archiving but the most interesting thing is I have this pretty extensive digital archive of all these graffiti tags and my interest in archiving crosses over the web too. So I'm now making features for the web thinking how they are gonna be looked at in 10 or 20 years and so one thing I've been doing is, you know how when you browse the internet you have everything stored locally for a while, everything sitting somewhere in your hardrive until it's being written over? I have been saving those and now I have archives of 2 weeks chunks of internet and I have some of those online now and you can see evey image I looked at through my browser in one browser page. I've been doing more work with that. Using archived internet as a way to make Art or even things like internet advertisement. You know, the proportion of banners and all these specific rations of images that are going to be really tellings of our time in 20 years and are not gonna make any sense anymore? I try to work with these snapshots of our society. That's what I've been up to lately.

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