Hey, You’re Cool! Graffiti Artist UFO 907
“My sh*t is in your face, whether you like it or not”
For years, 907 has been one of New York City’s biggest and most prolific graffiti crews. Look at any rooftop in Brooklyn and you’re likely to see gigantic works from members like CASH4, SMELLS, RAMBO and that alien character, UFO.
Last week, UFO and his crew wrapped up a yearlong national tour for their graffiti film, Wastedland 2, which focuses on a trio of 907 misfits trying to find the legendary UFO. Directed by Andrew H. Shirley, the film takes viewers into the strange minds of graffiti writers.
MASS APPEAL chopped it up with the elusive artist to talk about 907, transitioning from the streets to sculptures, Wastedland 2 and why UFO has so many eyes on him.
So where are you currently based right now. Still New York City, right?
Yeah, still in Brooklyn. I have them dreams of relocating to another city, giving my soul to another place. But I don’t think I’ll ever get outta here. UFO 907 is a NYC fixture, for better or for worse.
For those who don’t follow graffiti, what’s the backstory on the legendary 907 Crew?
Ha, that’s a long fucking story. 907 is a graffiti crew—it could be called a gang, from a cop’s point of view. It was founded before I even seriously wrote graffiti. 907 is an extended family. To me, it has always been the people I see and enjoy life with every day. Basically, if I’m sharing meaningful experiences with you on a daily basis, you’re 907 in my book. Whether you write graffiti or not. Some of the crew members who take graffiti more seriously would disagree with my interpretation of the crew.
In a nutshell we’re a dysfunctional family of misfits, like-minded individuals. Like most long-running family names, 907 has generations—it’s been around for that long. Heads have come and gone. As with most large families, there are members who I’ve never even met. We’re just a bunch of nutcases that seem to have been drawn to each other by some higher force. Connecting and uplifting within this life through painting, camaraderie and acts of disobedience.
907 really changed New York with a new wicked style of graffiti.
Yeah, 907—as with every crew—rolls with its own unique flavor. We’re known for our no-fucks-given, weirdo style. Not for boring-to-death and perfectly fancy pieces. We do what we want. I’ve always found 907 to be privy to the forgotten backlots or the unreachable roof tops. Going that extra mile to paint surprising and weird spots. Always coming off hard, yet goofy with that weirdness. We’re out here to bug y’all out, take graffiti to another place.
How does it feel to have your artwork travel across the country?
I feel crazy blessed. It’s so cool that Andrew was inspired by our crew and worked with our artwork. On top of creating this incredible film, Andrew has been busting his ass. Making a lifestyle out of schlepping everyone’s large scale, labor-intensive pieces all across this beautiful, fucked-up and backwards country in freaking rental U-Haul trucks.
The film was screened in some pretty crazy places like a farm in Utah, train yards in California and inside a bridge in Kansas City. How do you think all these unique spots changed the experience of the show/screening?
The whole Wastedland 2 tour has been on some next-level shit. It’s a totally immersive experience that surrounds the viewer with artwork and characters from the film while they watch it. To understand the magic, one must realize one of the more interesting aspects of painting graffiti: When you go out into the world to do a piece, you never truly know what you’re going to get yourself into. The wall might have the weirdest texture and be covered in vines. Maybe it’s hella paint thirsty or a slick piece sheet metal where every line is followed by a cascade of drips. Hell, the train panel you’ve been painting might suddenly roll away from you. More often than not, you’re painting in complete darkness—some “I have no idea what color I’m squirting on this wall” shit. It might be snowing and your fingers have frost bite or it’s so hot that you’re doing your fill in your underwear.
Of course, pretty often you’re looking over your shoulder for 5-0 as your painting. How many times have you been halfway through your piece and all of a sudden it’s time for a four-hour break, crouching inside a barrel before it’s safe to come out and finish? I love getting devoured by mosquitos or getting attacked by fire ants. Weird homeless people, drug addicts, prostitutes, mean dogs and annoying children is always fun. Crawling under a fence or scaling a wall to get to your canvas is convenient.
It’s total insanity, but it’s part of the beauty and excitement of painting graffiti. You constantly need to battle, work with or just accept the environment. It is the beauty of the unpredictable. And enjoying these surprises, good and bad, is a big part of this artform. The film gives a sense of these places and situations. The characters are traveling through these dilapidated settings and these magical landscapes: Train yards, forests, deep dark basements, and abandoned buildings. Projecting the film onto an old freight train, cinderblock wall, a barn or dank old factory building truly puts the viewer into the movie. During his showing in Detroit, freight trains were rolling by during our screenings—that couldn’t have been more perfect.
Like other writers such as REVS, you got some serious craftsmen skills. When did you start making wooden sculptures of your work?
I started getting into woodwork as a means of supporting myself many years ago. From day one, the roots behind UFO was never to make beautiful art. Graffiti was about fucking shit up and acting out. To be totally honest, it was an act of giving up on art. It was about staying out late, covering ground, breaking rules and just bugging out. My shit is in your face whether you like it or not. Fuck your rules, fuck your gallery, I don’t give a fuck about your opinion or your critique.
I never have and never will be able to paint typical graffiti, the type of graffiti everyday writers respect. I don’t know shit about fancy paint, special caps, style or technique. I have legacy of 20 years of stock cap graffiti. Twenty years in the game and I still suck. But who cares, because mastering this shit was never the point. But as it goes, after years of sticking to my guns—two Krylon cans with stock caps in my holsters—people started asking me to make pieces for art shows.
However, I still wasn’t happy painting UFO in the studio. The minute I brought UFO graffiti to a canvas I would become bored as shit. I completely lost interest. It got slow and dead and it sucked. One day, I got the idea to try and make the UFO in 3D, using my woodworking skills to see the fucking dude standing in front of me. I started cutting wood, not sure what would materialize. Next thing I know I busted out my first 3D wall mounted piece. It was amazing. Somehow with the wood, the process slowed down a bit and the attention to detail exploded. It felt great making the same dude but in a totally controlled environment at a slow, meditative, pace. The total opposite of what I was doing on the streets.
What is it like collaborating with other artists on your pieces?
Each and every time it’s been so amazing and elevating. Everyone I know has their own specialities. So through collaborations, I can achieve my visions in more than one language. My pieces could be made from not just wood, but metal, plastic, ceramic and neon. I’ve even archived my longtime vision of bringing UFO to life, all with this insane engineering and beautiful visions from my friends.
All the sculptures start with me picking up a can and doing a throw up or a marker tag. Using this as a template, I’m able to capture my hand and my essence. Then after sharing my initial visions, we get down to the exchange of ideas, finding how their skills and visions can bring UFO to new places. Next thing you know we’re moving along and shit gets exciting. Without my collaborators bringing there own language, visions and hand into these pieces, it would just be one-sided and stale. So far this recipe has been flawless.
How long did it take to make the centerpiece sculpture, also featured in the short film, “The Beginning If Not The End”?
I’m pretty sure Tom Porter and I banged that piece out in just over two weeks. It was a grueling push but we got it done. The project was supposed to be a newspaper box for some public art project through the Brooklyn Academy of Music but within minutes, we decided to throw everything out the window and just go ham on that thing. Tom is one of the most insanely skilled metal workers I’ve ever met, almost to the point of the dysfunctional genius. His sense of intense artistic beauty into that piece is unmatched!
It’s super dope that visitors can go inside.
I still love watching people go inside the head of UFO. Spin the eyes and almost take control; hide from the world inside my head. Over the years, so many people have spent time in that head. Clinking beers, doing drugs, blowjobs, sex, catching tags, performing music. All this in my fucking head. No wonder why I’m so fucked!
I loved how Wastedland 2 examined the emotions and bonds between graffiti writers.
To me, Wastedland 2 is 100 percent a film that comments on this epically confusing and lonely journey called life. It’s the never-ending struggle we go through every day, trying to figure out what to do with our lives. At some point if we’re lucky we may realize that sharing the journey, our experiences and pieces of ourselves with others brings happiness. Somehow it makes being alive feel less lonely and more meaningful.
I’ve always noticed that some of your work has way more eyes than others. What exactly does that mean?
As with many who function like me, I act first and think about it later. My creations become teachers, maps, fortune tellers. Pretty often I’m terrified with what I see, what I discover. So at first many eyes was just a thing to fill the head with. An aesthetic choice. But since I started drawing as a child, I quickly found that eyes were important to me—it’s one of my main means of communication, one of a human being’s most powerful organs.
Basically, I hate talking, I detest it. All my life I’ve be so freaking debilitatingly shy and reclusive. I’d rather crouch under a bench than talk uncomfortably to someone I don’t know. Since day one I’ve felt like a fucking alien around other humans. But if I must hang out and communicate with people, I tend to use my eyes or my actions more than my mouth. So I guess the more eyes, the stronger my levels of communication are. Eyes are the gateway to the soul right? So guess it could also be read as a frustrated cry for others to join me. A hundred silent invitations cast in all directions, begging others to get to know this lonely, frustrated and dysfunctional alien.