If we look at the history of graffiti, the early development of this art form is closely linked to letters and writings, which then grew into tags, which then turned into bubbles and throw-ups, which then went on to become true works of art, elaborate and detailed alike.
This was the beginning of a revolution, one that can still be felt today. While street art at large seems to be more popular than graffiti itself, there are still a few legends out there who are staying true to their roots. Although a style can certainly evolve, we can still instantly recognize that core of someone’s creation - we can still point out a Seen, or a Blade, or a QUIK, even some four decades after they started out.
Indeed, this last name on the list could often be seen on subway trains way back when, standing out in the web of tags and writings thanks to the accompanying arrogant and satirical comic imagery. From a simple QUIK statement, the art of Lin Felton expanded, improved, became more complex, carrying with it its cartoonish shapes, bright colors, various references and moods, underlying messages and entertaining backgrounds even.
But QUIK’s imagery is far from being a playful one. In the 1990s, the artist began referencing the racial and social (in)equalities by creating small stories imbued with the spirit of the blues. Perhaps this is where his artworks started having an ironic, bitter undertone disguised as humor, asking questions and introducing testimonies, both inner and outer.
In Paris, we talk to Lin Felton aka QUIK about his work, his connection to The Netherlands and the past alike, and the emotions behind the masks he often paints.
Widewalls: Let’s go down the memory lane for a second. How would you describe the beginnings of your career, and the now iconic “Beyond Words” show held at the Mudd Club? What was the atmosphere like back then?
QUIK: The Mudd Club “happening” took place at a time of unrestrained artistic and musical energies never repeated in NYC. At that time, P.S.1 held a broad expo, as well as Ali & FUTURA 2000’s “curating” our graffiti-inspired works into various popular night clubs.
Widewalls: And now an obvious question: what got you into graffiti?
QUIK: As a child, I simply related to the “funkiness” of the letter forms, as opposed to that which we were taught in the Caucasian run Amerikkkan classrooms! The graphic dynamics were a refreshing break from the normal alphabet.
It was also obvious that the general “game” of writing on walls and subways was a sort of youthful creative movement, with artists striving to make beautiful ornate works.
Widewalls: What can you tell us about your relationship with Yaki Kornblit?
QUIK: Yaki Kornblit was a wise gentleman regarding the world of contemporary art and sales. He took a grand risk supplying us with monies and international expo opportunities. Yaki believed in our art form, despite the color of our skins and economic backgrounds.
In 1983, Yaki orchestrated 2 solo exhibitions for me, as well as the popular Groningen & Bueymans Museum expos in Holland for a group of we New Yorkers.
Widewalls: Racial and social inequality mixed with cartoon characters is not something we often see - or at least not in the original way that you present it. How did this visual language come to be? What do the cartoon characters say that the other part can’t, and vice versa?
QUIK: My father and extended family members were quite active with civil rights and equality movements for Afro Americans in the 1960s. They were educated often in exclusively black universities.
This had a huge impact on my perspective of being an Afro Amerikkkan. The economic apartheid combined with Amerikkka’s sneaky and subversive genocide influences my art works.
Graffiti was intended as a “voice” to be heard; as we sought a broader audience than our immediate community. Within my experience as an international painter, my audience is broad and I wish this story of mine to be heard through my paintings.
Widewalls: The issues of racial and social inequality - would you say there was progress on that front?
QUIK: I find today’s many collectors of the trending “street art movement” are not educated in the arts and are simply money-oriented speculators. They are not interested in artistic voices, simply pretty pictures.
Widewalls: You said that you “paint the blues” and even case Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young. How does music find the way into your art?
QUIK: As a child of the 1960s and 70s, the music in Amerikkka was often brutally poetic, truthful and revolutionary. Afro American musicians suffered the old rules of segregation and prejudice and the government as a whole held contempt of it’s youth and their new ideals. The horrific and ridiculous Viet Nam war was raging, as young men were sacrificed for fossilized ideas of oppression.
The soul and rock-n-roll music was as rebellious as painting trains with one’s signature 20 feet long down the carriages.
Amerikkka’s foundation is that of suffering, death and oppression. The Blues of millions of ghosts haunts the land. I am born of this land. The land of Blues.
Widewalls: I’d say that one of the key aspects of your work is the expression of your characters. This leads me to believe that your work could be influenced by the masters of portraiture in the history of art - would I be right?
QUIK: [The] 1300s. Thus, to emulate those groundbreaking works would be a feeble attempt. I often disguise myself and my emotions within the characters I paint. The women and cats are not necessarily females nor FELIXes, just a visual podium for my own thoughts.
Widewalls: What about your fellow artists, has anyone in particular inspired you?
QUIK: Stylistically, I have been influenced greatly by SEEN, BLADE and REVOLT. Nevertheless, New York graffiti artists rarely tackle political issues except LADY PINK, LEE and the late RAMMELLZEE. They are far more interesting classical painters, as time shall be a testament to the greats of our movement.
Widewalls: What’s next for QUIK?
QUIK: It seems my work is exhibited somewhere in the world 365 days a year, so this is already a grand accomplishment... Hopefully with the help from my Dutch colleagues I can create a book of my own within the forthcoming year.
I have solo expos in New York and Liege, Belgium. I am also included in group exhibitions in a Liege Museum, [as well as] Parisian and Brussels art fairs. Wish me luck!!!
Featured images: QUIK at the Central Academy of Fine Arts Beijing, 2016; QUIK with SEEN, Las Vegas 2018. All images courtesy QUIK.