“How’s that working out for you?”

“What?”

“Being clever.”

For Tyler Durden’s nameless alter-ego, maybe not so much. But for NYC street art phenom Hanksy?

Very, very well.

What began as a visual joke among friends — replacing the head of Banksy’s iconic rat stencil with that of America’s favorite lovably-dim-witted-cross-country-runner-turned-shrimp-boat-captain — has blossomed into a full-fledged art career for the NYC-via-Chicago brush wielder. Gallery shows, Instagram followers out the wazoo, even an on-air shoutout from Stephen Colbert.

But it ain’t all just pun and games these days. Below, the artist chats with us on his meteoric rise, the role of social media in art, and the upcoming non-anonymous phase of his work.

 

NYC's Most Irreverent Street Artist Paints an Original

IH: What was it like to have your work become so widely notable in such a short span of time?

Hanksy: You know, it’s pretty astonishing — when you have no intention of something to explode like that, when it does? It really caught me off guard. You know I come from a journalism background, I have a lot of marketing experience. And I just, you know, spent years giving other people press and giving them interviews and giving them a platform. So when it kinda spun around and was directed at me? I just thought it was pretty interesting and even though it was just for the LOLs I just wanted to keep going with it and see how far I could take it.

NYC's Most Irreverent Street Artist Paints an Original


Social media has blurred the lines between what constitutes a piece of artwork versus a piece of promotional material ... whether for the artist him/herself or on behalf of a brand. How has social media affected your work?

People are drawing inspiration from across the globe, which is a good and a bad thing. I like Instagram and things like that because it's a quick scroll of the fingers. I can see my friends, what my friends are creating. You know I can be inspired by visuals I see by someone making art in Seattle or across the globe. But I think in this day and age with the internet and social media … you can't just be an artist that sits in your studio and makes work.

NYC's Most Irreverent Street Artist Paints an Original


You find inspiration offline as well, then. What are some of the most reliable resources for that?

Lately since I live in such a energetic city I've been taking a lot of walks. You know leaving distractions behind. I live on a street with three blocks of art galleries, both DIY and more professional. I can walk in and walk out of four galleries in 30 minutes and absorb a bunch. You know the museums here are amazing. I really try to make use of the opportunities to explore. Getting out in the city and you know, you just start thinking. What issues do I want to tackle or what do I want to say in the next painting?

NYC's Most Irreverent Street Artist Paints an Original

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I feel like from an exposure and inspiration standpoint, New York is tough to beat. Drawbacks?

The thing I dislike the most about being an artist in New York is it's difficult for someone that doesn't come from an affluent background where they can afford to live here and spend the majority of their time creating or seeing their visions through. I'm lucky enough I've been able to keep my head above water financially via art. But I see some of my most creative friends and artists, whether musicians, writers, what have you, and they're working their nine to five, but in New York that's not a nine to five, that's like a nine to nine sometimes. And then you're supposed to fit in two hours of creativity afterwards to fulfill your vision, your personal vision? And that really bums me out.

NYC's Most Irreverent Street Artist Paints an Original


Do you ever get concerned about your own livelihood?

I've had a lot of money, I've lost a lot of money. I'm really good at being broke. [laughs] Fortunately enough going forward, things have been all right. So I'm all in. I have projects lined up for the next six months, twelve months, a year, two years that I'm going to see through. So I'm not even giving it a second thought. I'm 100% gonna do this until it stops working.

NYC's Most Irreverent Street Artist Paints an Original


Thinking about longevity like that, how is your work evolving?

When I arrived in New York it was full of somber and serene art, street art, and I just thought other people were really good at that and so I let them have it. And if I could just provide the eye roll-inducing visuals or make someone smile after they spent nine hours under office lights on their walk home … they turn the corner and see my stupid pun and they chuckle to themselves, that was what I found rewarding. And I did that, and it served its purpose. But just with the events of you know, the last year and a half? Whether it's the election or just day-to-day. Every day it seems like there's a new tragedy and I just feel like in 2017 if I'm gonna produce some sort of art I want it to say something.

NYC's Most Irreverent Street Artist Paints an Original

So will you be totally shedding the Hanksy persona?

I'm proud of all the work I did the last five years. But just moving forward I think I can make more of a difference if I kinda shed the mask, if you will. You know, the work is still gonna be lighthearted, and I'm not completely dropping Hanksy, and I'll revisit it when it makes sense. But from here on out I want to kind of explore the limitations of myself.

How has that exploration manifested itself in your work?

Yeah I mean I, the work I'm creating right now and in the paintings I'm painting, it's a journey. And just like a journey in any aspect of life you learn along the way. Mistakes are the only way I've been able to grow and progress. Happy accidents, whatever Bob Ross said. You know like you do something out of the ordinary that you wouldn't necessarily do, and it's like a little moment of self discovery. And whether it works or not, you decide whether you want to utilize it and move forward. It took me a long time to realize that are no real mistakes when you paint because you can always ... [laughs] you can always just paint over it.

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