Speaking with Kosbe

Your stickers are among my favorites.  I love your characters and messages.  When did you first get into graffiti? Thanks, Lois. I appreciate all you do…  It was back in the early 90’s in Chicago. I was just starting the 7th grade.

What was your inspiration at the time — when you first started getting up?  I was attending a magnet school a block or so away from a shop called Untitled in Lincoln Park.  They used to toss me free graf magazines, and I got to see what was happening in NYC. I was inspired by the lettering styles of writers like Zephyr, ARAB and others… Thanks, Untitled!

What was your main spot back then?  There was a bus depot across the street from our school. We used to sneak over there after school and catch tags on the insides of buses. Until I was in high school, I got up mostly with tags on buses. It has always boiled down to the tag for me.

And when you were in high school?  It turned into everything: freights, train stations, the streets. My prime years of getting up in Chicago were around ’96 –’97.

Were you on your own?  No, one of my first bombing partners was this kid who now writes Phuct, FTR. He was way better than I was at the time.  But now he’s more into music, being a father and raising his daughter. We still stay in contact.

And then? I met my first mentor, Drel KMD BTC. He introduced me to straight-out bombing.  I followed him everywhere. He was like a big brother to me. He showed me everything I know about writing graffiti, hollering at females, dealing with the cops. To this day, he’s my oldest and closest friend… I love you, man.

What was Chicago like back then?  I grew up in Logan Square, a pretty rough hood at the time.  Our neighborhood had a whole bunch of gangbanger characters. I was amazed at how talented some of these gangbangers were at doing these elaborate gang graffiti tags with roller paint and stock caps – when they weren’t shooting others or just trying not to get shot.

How’d you survive it? I hung out with the local writers, Harp DST CTW, CMOR, SCRAM, IROK, ERIK CMW. We were lucky being the writers in the hood because it gave us a pass lots of times in tough situations. Sometimes we would go visit crews in other hoods like the STN cats on Fullerton and Avers.  We used to get stoned with them and then have to troop our way back to our neighborhood. Chicago was no joke back then.  Rest in Peace, KEDS STN.

Any other Chicago writers come to mind? My homie SEGE, the guys in the RGS crew, SPY UEMF. EGS (the first Cosbe), Fonzo, Melon, Dekaf, Basket Kase, KC, SIPS, MENS, PORKCHOP, ZEN, DIGS. And I got down with DST, my homey Rex’s crew.  I have a long graffiti history in Chicago, probably one of the hardest places to be a writer right now. I’m glad that the new book The History of American Graffiti has finally given the city its overdue props. 

And these days – here in NYC? What’s your favorite means of expression these days? I’m trying to focus on more formal figurative and abstract art… stuff more along the lines of fine arts. I’ve always had a strong interest in that, as well. But graffiti will always be a hard habit for me to let go of. It’s something I’ve dedicated lots of time and energy into and it’s something I’ve been doing for more than half my life. It’s not like I can put it on a job resume or something. It’s always going to be a great means of expression for me. But as I’m getting older I’m starting to focus on other things. That’s probably why people don’t see me up in the streets as much as they used to.

Have you had any formal art education? My first year out of grade school, I got a scholarship to the The Chicago Academy for the Arts, a private alternative high school in Chicago. But I dropped out.  All I wanted to do was draw comics and graffiti.  I ended up in one of the worst high schools in Chicago, Carl Schurz. I dropped out during my freshman year, bounced around alternative schools and then eventually got my G.E.D.

How does your family feel about what you do on the streets? Because I started writing and getting into trouble so young, my mom used to have to pick me up a lot from jail. She worried about me and tried to talk to me. But she knew I was hardheaded and I wasn’t going to stop.  After a while, she just stepped back and let me go though it alone. No one was coming to bail me out. I love her for being there for me through all my ups and downs. Kids, treat your parents with respect. They are all you got in this messed-up world of ours… Love you, Mom!

What was it like to be arrested? It always sucks. I think the system deals too harshly with graffiti. We need to have special programs for kids who get arrested for graffiti. I would like some day to help to develop such programs. Doing jail time and community service isn’t teaching you anything except to try harder not to get caught the next time.

Why do you suppose you continue to get up in the streets?  Old habits die hard.

Do you work with any crews? Too many to name, but I got mad love for all of them…ASA, DST, CTW. GP ATM, THC, J4F and Hobby Horse, just to name a few.

Have you ever exhibited your work in a gallery setting?  I currently have a piece in Martha Cooper’s Remix at the Carmichael Gallery in LA. I’ve also been in several art shows here in NYC and in Chicago.

What about books?  My sticker work has appeared in lots of books lately – Martha Cooper’s Name Tagging and Going Postal and DB Burkeman’s new book, Stickers: From Punk Rock to Contemporary Art. I also have a cameo in Nick Zinner’s book, I Hope You Are All Happy Now.

How do you feel about folks who remove stickers from public spaces? My labels get peeled a lot, so it’s no big deal. I wish they would ride, but they are just stickers. And that’s actually how I met Martha Cooper. I noticed that someone had been removing some of the first stickers that I’d been putting up in the East Village.   Whenever a new sticker went up, within a day or so it disappeared.  Then one day I saw a woman removing a favorite Overconsumer sticker I used to look at on my way to work. I went over to her to ask her what she was doing. She introduced herself as Martha Cooper and told me about her interest in sticker art and her upcoming books. Since, Martha’s been such an awesome and supportive friend. I thank her for that. She’s a great person.

That’s a great story!  I’m glad you met up with her. As a Chicago native, what do you think of NYC? I’m a fan. I’m just really into the rhythm of Manhattan. I like the pace – all the cars and bikes – and people running all over the place. I love it and I hate it – all at the same time. I have really bad asthma from all this city living, though.  So I don’t know how much longer I’m going to keep up with it?

How do you feel about the role of the Internet in this whole street art thing?  It’s created an entire generation that can’t focus. Everything has to be under two minutes now. It’s scary to think where we are going with this whole Internet thing. We are losing touch with what’s important, and that’s stopping us from enjoying the small things in life.

Who are some of your favorite artists? Degas, Egon Schiele, Kieth Haring, Basqiuat, Laylah Ali, Chuck Close, Mike Giant, Barry MCgee, Daido Moriyama, Kara Walker, Martha Cooper, Vaughn Bode, David Choe, Albert Reyes, Banksy, Ari Marcopoulos, Harmony Korine, Weirdo Dave, Anthony Lister, Ray Potes, Eric Beltz, Sam Flores, Doze Green, Edward Gorey, Dumbo, Futura2000 and Dondi —  just to name a few.

What about sticker artists? Any favorites? SURE ATM R.I.P. You will always be an inspiration and someone I respect. I will never forget you. Overconsumer, Rex (thanks for the sticker knowledge) Taki 183, Cost, Revs, Twist, Faust, Dceve, Edec, Ader, Desa, Baser, 5003, Hobby Horse, Infinity, Neck Face, Adict, Pez, Goya, Smeer, Jare.  Those are some I can think of at the moment.  

What do you see yourself doing in five years?  Living some place quiet and remote  – hopefully near a freight yard.

Good luck!

Interviewed by LoisInWonderland

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