For our seventh installment of weekly interviews, Keith Goldman goes urban. Take it away, Keith!
If you have a Flickr account, and a decent list of contacts then your photo stream has probably been tagged by this week’s builder, Cole Blaq. Legally known as Aran Jitsukawa-Hudson (which is an awesome name and far more interesting than yours or mine), Cole has done what is so difficult to do in our flabby sea of Mannkinder; achieve a truly unique style.
I sat down with Aran on a cold November night, thirty feet over the Autobahn on the backside of a billboard for BMW. We drank whiskey from the bottle and talked about Fritz Lange, the evils of Teflon and the enduring comedic value of the Maginot Line. We also talked about LEGO.
Keith Goldman: Talk to me about bombing, burning and “getting up” with bricks. How did you develop your signature graffiti style, and what techniques serve as its core?
Cole Blaq: The ride’s quite a while ago, it dropped hard and after that all was left to burn. Getting up, spreading your name and development still continues. The material has changed but the style is still the integral element of self-expression. The context of public space is amiss, but yet it refers and in the proper spotlight this discussion definitely will be continued.
Since I restarted building with bricks in early 2008 I’ve had a vision of creating graffiti styles – it came naturally according to my previous years of expression. My signature was developed long before my brickish time. Now it just reappears into the bricks. Often the style has a certain character next to my signature that originates from the brick matrix and the character of the parts used.
The development with the bricks started with simple drafts to see with what techniques one can approach style-lettering. It started as a simple challenge over at the Urban Culture and Bricks group last May and within a month fully articulated and developed styles were achieved, wherein many of those previous draft builds melted together.
I have developed two basic techniques, one is based on straight slopes and the other one is based on wedge plates. The second technique includes hinges and hinges and hinges in order to break and angle the letters at the right places. With those parts I can shape the letters two dimensionally and in the next step I extend the letters into third space — considering different possibilities. That’s where it becomes really tricky and interesting. I am actually working on another founding structure based upon Technic parts. All these techniques can be modified and intermixed and limitless ways of creating styles are possible – it’s all about experimenting and trial and error.
KG: You are an art history student; does that influence your building? I once used this diorama for an Egyptian history course. Have you ever used the brick for an assignment?
CB: Art history is all about theory, not practice, which is my grande critique of the art historian education: Most students miss empathy for the work, its material and inner pictorial issues. As I have a continuous creative output I see myself in the same line, except I am not offishal, Mr. Offisha. An artistic approach is quite different than model building. Models are nice to build and the experience from that flows into my free works.
It is another issue to create something new, something not based upon a real life or a concept draft. Spaceship designs for example reach within these realms, but are too bound to our standardized perception of what a spaceship must contain.
Bricks have their value; they lay out a foundation and a certain pattern which enables certain things, predominated directions and characteristics.
At the same time the pattern and the material itself limits a free artistic expression. These days I often come to the limits of the bricks being true to my expression. Another problem is the core of a build. After creating a ground structure and building upon it, it is very often impossible to reach back to the core and tweak the structure, if one wants to change things later…
But that’s a topic I continue to ponder: how to approach that part practically and theoretically (due to my art historian studies).
No assignments up to now, but I am working on it and will share my success or cover my face in shame if I fail.
CB: Yay, the Banksy question!
OK, what is Banksy-like? Banksy set a certain latter in subversive political humor without taking a direct position. Also most people are familiar with the stencil style he applies. If you are talking about his humor, it is possible to depict that kind in any medium. If you’re talking about stencils, its techniques are similar to those used for a silhouette / cut-out principle. Doing brick mosaics with bricksaic and some pre-editing in Photoshop will produce a similar effect. The theme / images with which Banksy plays, the interlocking stencil technique, are somehow copy-able. The biggest issue you’ll encounter is that of public space as the integral canvas / background which will be impossible to surrogate. Even his public space works being exhibited inside the white cube (classical museums and art galleries) raise the same problems. His work relating to the art business is different as it is an examination and debate within that context and also only works inside the gallery.
Seeing Banksy’s kind of black and subversive humor in bricks would be great, but you’ll have to be prepared to question all existing rules and cut your precious little bricks until they bleed.
More of Keith’s interview with Cole after the jump:
KG: Why did it take a German to bring hip-hop style graffiti to the world? American builders should hang our heads in collective shame, especially those from the 5 Boroughs. Were you perhaps born in Brooklyn? Are you a fan of hip-hop, what style, and how does the culture influence your builds?
CB: If you mean hip-hop style graffiti to the brick world, then I’ll ask you if you ever have heard the German saying “Vorsprung durch Technik“? That’s probably the answer. I think the best style writers in general come from NY back in the old days and Germany in the eighties and nineties with some exceptions from other countries. Graffiti is done everywhere and the scene in Italy and France is on fire and lately also the UK, but in my opinion the most advanced style writing typography is in Germany – at least at the time when I was very active in the late 1990s / early 2000s.
I wasn’t born in Brooklyn, but in Swansea and lived some years in Bristol, the hometown of Banksy ;-) — If that makes up for it.
Hip Hop is a multifaceted issue. I love the idea, especially Zulu Nation and the oldschool attitude.
My experience with real life Hip Hop culture at concerts and other events was quite negative, too much wannabe gangsterism going on. People who can’t write, rap or express themselves otherwise in a positive way tend to compensate by being a bully. I have seen and heard some mainstream Hip Hop I feel quite disgusted as it is racist, sexist and dumb as hell. Bling bling and scarface’s the absolute idol. That is definitely not my understanding of Hip Hop.
Look at DJ Krush, or the independent labels and the abstract Hip Hop movement. When I write I think of Company Flow, when I listen to Company flow I think of writing.
I don’t know anything about different Hip Hop styles, except East vs. West coast. That’s not my thing. If it sounds good I like it, if it sounds bad crap it!
KG: You attended and displayed your models at 1st LEGO Graffiti Styles Convention in Munich this past year. Can you describe the event, and how it differs from typical FOL conventions? Also, have you attended 1000 Steine-Land, and if so, can you give a good story?
CB: Up to now I have never been to any official fan convention. There’s one in Cologne called Fanwelt in autumn this year and I plan on going. So for now I can’t give you a good descriptive comparison. The convention in Munich was interesting as it was a creative mash-up. It was great seeing how people, mostly non-FOLs (not until then) reacted to the objects and installations. The event took place in an old Villa which soon will be demolished. The opening day was Saturday eve. Two DJs wove the acoustic rooms. There were two artist groups and several solo artists who collaborated or shared a room to exhibit their stuff. Most people were from the Munich street art scene and used bricks for first time (since their childhood) and did installations and creations just for the event. There were undoubtedly many approaches to the Street Art and Graffiti theme. Basically it was a model show with few exceptional works which really managed to tickle the crossover nerve in a sophisticated way. There was a huge gap between surface related stuff and deep rooted art work, but that’s just my opinion.
The German AFOL scene is quite old-timed, which means the majority of people are stuck in the possibilities of LEGO from the 80s, mainly building trains, trains and trains or a good old fashioned moonbase. No misunderstanding, building trains is fine for me as long as the folks stay open minded (just like most people at Flickr do) — just like with everyone. Therefore most active people at 1000steine unfortunately can’t cope with changes and new ways. I had a go for it and had a look at the topics and how the people interacted, accompanied by a questionable level of building and presentation. That really drove me off. That’s no smack talk; it’s just how I personally experienced it. Therefore an international platform like Flickr is more of a Zeit Geist thing, where I see skilled brick creations and innovation and diversity next to originality and open minds.
KG: Hip-Hop, among other things, is all about racial diversity. Does it trouble you that most of the FOL community tends to be overweight affluent white guys with receding hairlines? (Editorial Note: I’m not including myself as I am black, rail thin, with an afro the size of Texas.)
CB: First of all, Graffiti is independent from Hip-Hop. I was often dragged and drowned into the German Hip-Hop scene, but the scene is too much conformity to attract me. The real leaders who push things forward are those who cross borders, so there is no Hip Hop at all. Nevertheless the so-called Hip Hop music has a heavy impact to the music world and I like a few artists, but very few. I prefer blaq Jamaican Reggae and Rub-A-Dub Dancehall. There the question of racial diversity is reversed.
No, it doesn’t trouble me that most bricksters are of Caucasian physiognomy. I don’t see the people; I mainly read or see their stuff without any issues of cultural back ground. Besides I think there’s a huge bunch of Asian (originated) folks within the scene. Most bricksters are quite liberal in their thinking and attitudes. It’s mostly the kids who are youthfully blind with all their gun madness and (wordlessly) seek advice from the experienced. Racism is a two sided sword.
I do think there are more people with migrational backgrounds behaving in a racist manner living in Germany than Germans behaving so. Does getting a citizenship make a racist person with a migrational background a German racist? One has to look at each person no matter what colour his skin, what religion or political believes. The world is a giant potpourri including everything from black to white and all shades in-between and outside.
KG: You bear a rather striking and unmistakable resemblance to General Zod. If requested by a majority of the community, would you ever consider dressing like him for a convention and speaking the immortal words: Kneel before Zod, son of Jor-El?
CB: I somehow knew you would bring up this reference. Usually the norm (majority) doesn’t affect me; it is more the special people. So if some of these specialists would annoy me enough I would dress up adequately. Of course it would be great fun and I would also expect everyone else to dress up as a comic character…riding the boom of Cosplay.
KG: What set or theme would you like to see our dark overlords come out with next?
CB: If by dark overlords you mean TLG then I would like to see a whole new product line and sales form. An artist line with order by parts at a fair price (unlike PaB) on a similar concept as the Creator sets. Actually most product lines encourage the collecting passion of the weak human, but does not really encourage the creativity of the strong human. That’s the direction the money goes, but encouraging creativity should remain the most important issue for a philanthropic toy.
5 Boilerplate Questions
KG: If you had to pick only one of your MOCs to go in the great FOL time-capsule, which would it be?
CB: My last creation when I was a child. I was 12 and built a hydrofoil boat in classical colours (black red bottom, black middle part and a white deck.) I was quite proud of it and saw it as my best creation at that time. I sold all my bricks at that time, including the boat, and bought me some dark ages. Sadly there are no photos of any LEGO creation of that time.
KG: If you had to pick only one of my MOCs to go into the great FOL time-capsule, which would it be?
CB: The Omicron Weekend is a fantastic creation. I also like the Iron Correspondent. The Omicron is technically perfect and clean but the Iron Correspondent is a different thing. To make something brickish look dirty is a good effort in the Banksy direction, sir.
KG: If time, money and proximity were not an issue, give me 2 builders besides me that you’d like to collaborate with on a project?
CB: You, in regard of your baggy pants. There are a few builders I’d love to collaborate with depending on the theme. I can imagine working with Karf and Jerrac. Karf Oolhu for some advanced creative craziness and Jerrec for his very accurate and technically highly developed skill, combined with a sleek and formidable style.
KG: What is your favorite comment or review you’ve ever received on a model?
CB: All comments are highly appreciated and valued, they are very encouraging. I really like comments which reflect the creation on a deeper level of understanding. There are a few fantastic comments, but one comment by Futura had the strongest impact.
KG: And finally, good sir, who controls the action?
CB: The Principle!
Call it God, Allah, Jahwe, Jehova, Jah or the whole bunch of other deities, excluding any so called holy people or prophets, they’re much too materialized.
And if destiny’s on a break we control the action.