Neu Black

Roger Gastman- Neu Black Exclusive Interview

05.18.10   |   Posted in: Art & Design, Events   |   By: Trina Calderon
Tags: , , ,    

Roger Gastman is a man of many talents.  The day I caught up with him he was a curator, prepping the day before his show “ROOMS” would open at Scion: Space in Culver City.  Roger is a mover and a shaker in the American art community.  He founded two critically successful art publications, While You Were Sleeping and Swindle (co-founder with Shepard & Amanda Fairey).  Today he is the Creative Director & Founder of R.Rock Enterprises, a multi-platform, boutique media agency that specializes in being one step ahead of the game.  Clients include Coca-Cola, Harper Collins, Saatchi & Saatchi, Volkswagon, HBO, and Urban Outfitters.  He’s constantly working on the very envelope that the others are “pushing.”

The Bethesda Maryland native came up doing graffiti and participating in the straight edge punk scene in the DC area.  He turned his passion for the sub-cultures loose on the world and thanks to his documentation and research, published several excellent books showcasing American graffiti.  One of the best documentaries on the same subject, Infamy, also has Roger’s stamp all over it; he served as Supervising Producer.  He is very successful in bringing street art to the mainstream and bridging the very specific style with the business of media.  In the art documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop , the adventures of Banksy and Mr. Brainwash (Thierry Guetta) are chronicled and lead up to the epic “Life is Beautiful” show MBW held in Los Angeles in 2008. At that point, Roger is introduced in the film as the man brought in to save the show.  His curatorial expertise was clutch for the very large exhibit and it’s really a tribute to the kind of instinct and judgement that Roger can bring to any kind of project.

NB: You have a career history as a graffiti artist, editor, curator, and an overall idea man when it comes to bridging and communicating the world of American street culture with the rest of the world. How in the world did this happen?

RG: That’s a good question. I ask myself that a lot.

I think I am able to bridge the gap between the graffiti and corporate worlds because I have had a foot in both. I’m not a suit trying to infiltrate a culture I know nothing about. I grew up writing graffiti, and the artists trust me.

When I was 19, I was able to parlay my passion for graffiti into a business in the form of the magazine While You Were Sleeping. That led to co-founding Swindle magazine, which led to more books, marketing projects, etc.

At my company, R. Rock Enterprises, I try to take on as many new projects as possible. Even if it’s something I’ve never done before, it’s a learning experience and can open new doors. It’s important in business to evolve.

NB: I was still hanging on the street and could care less about having a real job when I was 19.  What was your motivation to create such an amazing zine and really spotlight the subculture you came up in?

RG: I created While You Were Sleeping because I saw that there was a hole in the market. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t still getting in trouble. While You Were Sleeping is evidence of that.

NB: Who are your heroes and how do they specifically influence you?

RG: Danzig. I plead the fifth.

NB: What’s your favorite restaurant in L.A. and what do you eat when you’re there?

RG: Houston’s. I get the veggie burger every time, usually an artichoke, and the brownie sundae. Sometimes I’ll just get a scoop of vanilla ice cream. They have really good vanilla ice cream. Once in a while, they have a strawberry shortcake special, which is amazing. Houston’s restaurants aren’t just in Los Angeles. They’re everywhere. I’m working on hitting every one in America.

NB: What’s your favorite current TV show?  Favorite film of all time?  Favorite book?

RG: My favorite TV show is iCarly. I’m really into Gibby. He takes his shirt off a lot.

My favorite film of all-time is Midgets vs Mascots. It’s like they made the movie just for me.

Books are for suckers.

NB: If you could be any cartoon character, who would you be and why?

RG: Boris from Bullwinkle. I always thought Natasha was hot and I want to bang her.

NB: Why do you think art is important?

RG: Because people can draw vile, pornographic things and get away with it by calling it art.


NB: How was the concept of ROOMS conceived?

RG: I don’t necessarily have a really straight forward answer.  I just thought about the space a lot because I was very familiar with it.  I have curated a few things over the years and gone to a lot of the shows here.

I know selling the art isn’t always the main push of the space.  I mean, its name is Installation for one, and I didn’t feel that there were always the craziest installations done here.  So, I figured, it’s the first show of many that we’re going to be helping, organizing, and putting together here.  So why not start off fresh and make the space look completely different than it had for any of the any of the previous shows and really play on the strength of the title, which is installation.  I just started writing down lots of artists that I’m friends with, that I like, and who are responsible – no real idea or cohesion in mind.  I’d never show them together, though they’re all responsible and I like them all.  What the hell do I do with them?  I just came up with the idea, why don’t we build out a lot of different rooms in the space?  For one, it will look completely different.  Two, it’ll make sense to show a lot of different people and bring together a lot of different artists and that will have a lot of different artists fans that will not be familiar with another’s works.  Hopefully, the audience will then learn from it.

NB:What is your favorite room in your home and why?

RG: I guess my favorite room is my bedroom and not for the stereotypical answers you probably expect me to say …

NB: Oh, you mean for getting dressed?

RG: I love getting dressed.  I love full length mirrors.  I love my wardrobe, putting on make up, my curling iron for my hair, all of that.

NB: *Laughter

RG: It’s dark and it’s private and its quiet, even if it’s super sunny out.  My room is painted a dark color, there are bushes outside the windows, and there are blinds.  It’s just dark, private, and quiet.  A big comfortable bed, and television – I love television.  I can always just go in there and escape.

Often I’ll spend evenings, days, nights, on my laptop working in bed.

Or when I’m stressed out, if I can’t come up with the ideas or answers for things for proposals, I just get in bed and watch TV and things come to me.

I really like my bedroom because I often have a lot of people over my house, from people staying there to entertaining, and the bedroom is the room that stays the most private and is most mine…And I have a dungeon underneath the house from the bedroom…

NB:For real?

RG: One day.

NB: What’s so important about creating a vibe in a space?

RG: I think making a space your own is the only way you can feel at home there.  If you just have some crappy interior decorator go to any furniture store, buy some stuff, and put it there, might as well be living in a hotel.

You can go slowly and build onto your home, your room, your office, whatever it is and make it feel livable, lived in and versatile.

NB: What was your room like when you were younger?

RG: From 6th or 7th grade on, my room was a definition or extension of what I liked, my hobbies and whom I was.  There was a Misfits poster on the wall and a Gwar poster, and stuff that had been on the walls for years.  Then as I got further into music, further into graffiti, you know, more records everywhere and the walls were painted.  I started to hang photos and art.  I still have a photo of my shelf of spray paint that used to be my bookshelf that now had spray paint all over it from when I was 16 or 17.  I wouldn’t say I did crazy things to my room I just feel that it sort of evolved into what I was into.  It was a good space; it was a large room.

NB: Can you give me different words or small phrases to describe each room in the exhibit?

RG: Dan Monick and Caitlin Reilly’s ROOM : very transient, but inviting

Dueling VHS’ ROOM: rad

Bill Daniel’s ROOM:  everything I idolized growing up

Adam Wallacavage’s ROOM: creeping elegance

Chris Stain’s ROOM: Baltimore

Kime Buzzelli’s ROOM: charmingly creepy

Justin Van Hoy: I like it because there’s a Washington Bullets jersey – it was Rich Coleman’s.  He wears it when he paints, so it probably hasn’t been washed in years, it’s disgusting.

Rocky Grimes’ ROOM: statutory

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