LSD Magazine interviews How and Nosm

Issue Three – Weapons of Mass Creation – 23rd December 2009

How and Nosm are sparkling legends of the worldwide graffiti movement. Whisking us through style after style, concept after concept, sizzling colour after sizzling colour they’ve truly painted the world a finer shade of imagination and brought a new edge and a fresh magic to our public spaces. Cooking up a fever of explosive imagery and unleashing their deeply honed flavour of fat and heavy az u like, they took a moment out from their spray soaked global mission of whirlwind creativity to have a quick word with us

Can you give us a bit of early background?

We’re the twin brothers HOW and NOSM, of RAL (Right And left), and we’re graffiti artists and professional muralists residing in New York. Born in the Basque country of San Sebastian, Spain, we grew up in Duesseldorf, Germany and have been practicing the Bronx born artform of graffiti since 1988. We got introduced to art early on by observing our Mother’s drawings and our Father’s interest in paintings. We also lived in such a small town that there wasn’t really shit to do besides get involved in crime, so writing was one of the few options to escape the boredom that led to that…and being raised on welfare, writing was for the most part free, since we were stealing everything needed to execute it. Our late teenage years were spent traveling around the world to many of the more than 50 countries we’ve visited, and spray painting anything we could get our hands on, including trains.

During a visit to New York in ’97 we were asked to become members of the TATS CRU, so we decided to move to the States, and permanently relocated to New York in ‘99. That move marked our transition from painting trains, bombing the Berlin wall, and just not givin’ a fuck–to becoming businessmen and creating elaborate murals for commercial clients like SONY, Coca Cola, and Khiel’s. As members of TATS CRU, we’ve had the opportunity to lecture at Universities like M.I.T. and our work has appeared in numerous films, music videos, documentaries–and most recently, the windows of historic NYC department store, Lord and Taylor, the Galleria D’Arte Moderna in Milan, Italy, and the Exhibition Center in Hong Kong, China. Our body of work includes everything from trains and walls to canvases, furniture, large scale multimedia sculpture, and anything else we can get our hands on.

How and Nosm1

Would you say that your European roots brought a fresh edge to the New York Scene?

We’ve been around all generations of the New York graffiti movement and have collaborated with and earned our respect from many amongst them… But we weren’t there in the 80’s–and we like it that way, because New York’s graff history has always been magical to us–it was the reason that we came to NY in the first place. That said, even though we weren’t here in the ‘80s… When we came to NY in the ‘90s, I’d say yeah, we had quite an impact on the graff scene (together with Daim and Hesh from Hamburg, Germany, who brought a more perfected 3D style than NY writers of the time were used to). Back in the 90’s we did big
murals that stood out from the murals painted by local New Yorkers–not only because of our unique styles, but also because of the way we used colors and the themes we chose for our murals. Plain and simple, having the advantage of painting differently is what made us stand out from the rest.

Tats Cru noticed that, and recruited us to represent the crew in Europe and the rest of the world. Once we moved to NY and consistently painted with the Tats Cru members, we developed a fusion of our and their style that came to the forefront of graff murals in New York. At that time, our rival crew FX recruited many European writers so they could keep up with our elaborate productions. We must admit that gave us some headaches, but it was very healthy for us because it pushed us beyond what we thought were our limits, to be the best we could be–those were fun times! The extensive travels of foreign graffiti artists to New York revived the graff scene a lot in the 90’s. And not only us, but many other artists like Loomit, Dare, Toast, and more played a major role in that revival.

Where’s the line between lettering and the abstract, and how do you blur that line?

Since we’ve been practicing this art form for more than 20 years, the line between lettering and the abstract has kind of disappeared to us. It’s more obvious to someone who doesn’t do what we do, ‘cause our outlook is warped. We could do a piece that’s totally readable to us, but so deformed and abstract that the average person wouldn’t even be able to see letters. But if you know our work, you’d probably know it was done by us because of our style–or simply because we signed it with a very readable «HOWNOSM» in the corner. Now if you’re looking for traditional graffiti, we might disappoint you right now. We’re experimenting a lot at the moment.. but who knows what we’ll be doing this coming year. Our goal for 2009 was to do 100 typography inspired pieces, which went to an extreme and we got tired of it–so decided to do only huge, solid, filled in throw ups. A lot of them. And we have a feeling you will get to see many more. Sometimes we just need balance,and to break free of a direction we’re going before if gets stale. Regardless of how we change our style though, most people will recognize it–it’s like our signature that nobody can forge. «Dare to
be different and don’t set yourself any limits» is our way of thinking and maintaining our creative freedom. We don’t draw any lines between styles.

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How do you structure the use of color in your pieces?

Like every artist out there we have our own feeling about and taste in colors and composition. We have some favored color combinations that we use here and there, and lately it’s been mostly black, white, and red. Those colors are basic but very powerful, and help us stand out from the other artists out there. When we’re planning a piece, we often look at what colors we used on the piece before and try to do something different. Contrast is also very important when we pick our colors. Many graffiti artist nowadays use all colors possibly available in one piece, and it looks awful–even worse, many may imitate them. In our opinion, there is no sense of color composition to a piece when you use so many different hues… but in the end it all comes down to everyone’s own personal tastes. It’s like a bad song that you hear on the radio that you start to like after you’ve heard it a thousand times. That’s what’s happening today with a lot of pieces out there–your vision gets blurry from being oversaturated bad artwork.

What does public art bring to a cityscape?

In general, most public art brings color and brightness into people’s lives, and is usually connected with a feeling of excitement,
happiness, and enrichment. Usually a spectator or bypasser wants to decipher the message of whatever is painted publicly. Once they have that figured out, they might be pleased by the message or even disturbed. But either way, they will continue thinking about the mural even after they’ve walked away. So public art, or the artist that does public art, can influence a community in all kinds of ways. It’s not unlike advertising–whether it be a message, a feeling you want to envoke, or just your name you’re pushing.

Tell us a bit about the Tats Cru?

In the mid ’80s Bio, BG 183, and Nicer started doing subway graffti. What began as their adolescent hobby and a recognition tactic
evolved into an individual style and successful business, bringing TATS CRU to the forefront of the mural art/painting. For the last 30 years TATS CRU has worked to change people’s perception of graffti as an art through our work.We’re definite leaders in the world of mural advertising and art, and all the hard work we’ve put in can be found in our murals that adorn the walls of hospitals, museums, schools, businesses, and New York City institutions. Our headquarters are in the Hunts Point area of the South Bronx, just off the 6 train subway line. We’ve been there since 1995, in the facilities of the community development center The Point, a non profit organization with that provides different cultural activities. We’re the only ones in the facility that are for hire, but we still volunteer for workshops and other free projects to benefit the community we work and live in. Educating people about graffiti is important to us, and we’ve lectured at M.I.T., Hunter College, Columbia University, The University of Massachussetts, Cortland University, Brooks School, and many other community-based organizations.

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What is the point of galleries?

The use of galleries is a very good way to make your artwork accessible and available to the public—as it’s usually outdoors and
nobody can take back home to their living rooms. Galleries offer opportunities to make a living off of your work and to explore new
territories. When it comes down to it, all graff artists are very competitive and love to be AllCity—Why not AllGallery?

What was the creative atmosphere like in ‘80s New York?

You would have to set up an interview with the founders of Tats Cru to get a good view of the 80’s and what the atmosphere was like. We weren’t there, but have been fortunate enough to hear quite some raw and unforgettable stories—stories you’ll be able to read in our upcoming book about thirty years of Tats Cru.

How has the New York scene evolved from then to today, and what influence would you say you’ve had on that progression?

Well the 70’s and the 80’s were the shit. Sorry the language, but graffiti came to the surface at just the right time in just the right
place. New York was in a depression and the system didn’t care much about crime, and even less about graffiti. So it was the perfect point in time for graffiti to evolve freely. But we won’t talk about the past to much, ‘cause we don’t want to hear our old school friends here in NY tell us we don’t know what we’re talking about—you need to ask some of the NY subway graffiti pioneers about the scene from back then. But once subway graffiti died out, due the extreme measures the MTA took against the adolescent artists, some of them like Crash, Daze, and Futura took it to another level. They invaded the galleries of New York and became celebrated in many galleries around the world. Graffiti wasn’t as bad as people always thought, and it made the transition at the right time because there was no other new and unique art form around. On the other hand, Tats Cru got tired of big companies using graphic designers to create fake graffiti styled advertisements, so they incorporated and made official graffiti accessible to those companies. They opened the doors back then for all graff artists to be able to live off graffiti like they do today.

Where do you get your imagery from

Our body of work speaks for itself. We have a lot of different approaches to this artform—ranging from canvases and sculptures, to
walls and murals…our work doesn’t need a label. Inspirations are drawn from all kinds of everyday life experiences and surroundings, which can clearly be seen in our latest works and styles. So basically, we get inspired by anything interesting. We even take random things, throw them in our brains, let them sit there for a while—and when it’s their time, they come out via our hands, in our style and version—most of the time on paper first and then onto the wall or surface.

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Do you find that over the years you’ve managed to develop and cross fertilize a range of styles, and do they stay separate or can they fuse into one piece?

Definitely! If you look at our work, which can be found on (and many other sites), you’ll find work from our early years to now. You can clearly see the development in our styles. When we started out painting in the streets, we were imitating the simple old school New York graff until we developed our own simple style. From there we took it to wildstyle lettering in the ‘90s—including elaborate characters, which were mostly photorealistic images. Then it was on to 3D styles, which we became quite famous for for a while. It’s in our nature to constantly evolve our styles to perfection and then move on to new territories and try to master them too. But whatever so called style we might do, it always carries our flavor and originality within it. You have to try out different things to find your limits, and to keep yourself entertained and satisfied with your own work. There are many artists out there who are scared to try out new things because they are trapped by what they think people want to see from them. That’s not very healthy for your creativity and it is definitely doesn’t support the process of creating something. It should be totally free minded. Besides, being versatile gives you the option of mixing different styles together and creating a new ones that will open doors to create even more new stuff. People who follow our work have given us pretty good feedback when we run a certain idea for a while, so we must be doing something right in their eyes too. Now go out there and support a starving artist, haha.

To us, working on walls and canvases in various styles has some similarities with bombing trains. It is a beautiful feeling, seeing
your wildstyle graff name on a train you painted in the night running by a subway station in the morning—and then going back home to plan a new action…which might be an illegal train track wall that you’re going to bless with a huge top to bottom blockbuster. Do you get the picture? We also like to do good ideas before others do them. I guess
that’s the true writer in us that is very competitive by nature.

Is there such a thing as selling out, and what is the difference between that and earning from what you love?

Selling out? To us that term is nonsense. We grew up with nothing, living of welfare in the projects with an alcohol troubled mother of three who didn’t get any financial (or any other) support from anyone else. Growing up, most kids around had more than us. They would tease us ‘cause we would always rock the same kicks and gear, and they would laugh that we dedicated ourselves so much to painting. When we quit school in Germany, they laughed even more, saying we were crazy and that we would never amount to anything. To our luck, that wasn’t the case. And thanks to our talent, and the help of Tats Cru, we’ve been able to make a decent living as artists. But that’s where the shit starts… Now you have the people that always doubted and laughed at you saying you are a sellout because you are making a living off what you love and believe in. We don’t understand their jealousy.

Does it really matter where the money comes from? We’ve done our part in society and yes we have taken money from drug dealers, and murderers, and from huge corporate companies to pay bills. So what? Would you prefer that we live of your tax money? If you haven’t been through our lives filled with crime and poverty, then you surely shouldn’t judge us for making some money off our art. We think we speak for quite a lot of artists out there with similar situations. And don’t tell us about being political correct because who the f**k is that nowadays? Look at Banksy, paints political stuff all day and everybody admires him…Then he comes to New York and rents out billboards from one of the biggest American companies, and has his artwork painted by artists for hire. Is that selling out? Just love or dislike the artist for the artwork they do.

Happy Holidays and all the best for 2010!

How and Nosm2


Issue Three – Weapons of Mass Creation – 23rd December 2009