May 19, 2016

Futura 2000 interview from Spine Magazine

Another Futura 2000 post, with this vintage interview originally published on the long-dead UK website Spine Magazine, back in 2002.

Spine Magazine- Futura interview screenshot

Regardless of how you know the name, whether it’s through his pictures in ‘Subway Art’ or purely through his record cover imagery for Mo’ Wax, you automatically associate it with excellent sketches, abstract spraypaint styles and clean typography. He’s one of the few designers/artists whose work you can just tell without having to read into it – you see a Futura character and you know immediately who created it.

In November 2000, his book on Booth-Clibborn Editions was released, quickly becoming one of the fastest-selling books in town. Full of never-seen-before pictures, data and styles, it’s a must-have for anyone who’s ever looked at any of his works.

Futura was in London for his book promotion and signings (shout to all those who we caught at the Hideout signing session!) and kindly dropped into the Spinemagazine studios for a chat, along with Ollie from Mo’ Wax.

Instead of getting a typical twenty-minute Q + A, we sat and chatted for over 90 minutes while he sketched, signed and drew over everything in sight.

Aside from being packed with ideas, knowledge and tales, Futura has to be one of the nicest guys we’ve ever encountered. Read what he had to say…

What happened during the ‘twilight years’? What happened to you and your peers when the NYC graf phase passed on? Everyone knew you from the whole ‘Subway Art’ and ‘Style Wars’ era, but between then and your re-emergence, no-one really knows…

I’d say probably from 1986 ’til… I met James in ’92, so for three or four years I was just doing whatever, finding work wherever I could doing various jobs – in an effort to support my family, obviously. I basically just abandoned the whole art world.

Were you painting at all?

No, I didn’t even have the means to, to be honest. When the ‘ship set sail’ as it were, I became a labourer. I worked for the post office at one point and I did nothing artistic to earn money at all. I didn’t have the opportunity to sell anything, no-one was interested – it was a time of reflection for me and waiting for something to happen. What did happen in 1989 was that Agnes B from Paris bought one of my paintings and said to me, would I be into doing a couple of paintings for her in addition to the one she bought? So what happened was that one sale generated some commissions.
She said, ‘Listen… maybe you should get yourself a studio’. So I had an arrangement with her over a couple of year period where she bought work and helped support my studio and give me a place to work, which was fantastic. Then the following year I kinda re-emerged with an exhibition in New York at this gallery. But I still didn’t feel that great about doing shows. Something about doing shows being something I wanted to move away from.
I’d say right around then was when I had my first experience with a computer and started getting into that. Around ’91 is when Stash, myself and Gerb started our first clothing company – GFS. That started us off getting into another media. We were really small, doing everything ourselves. We ultimately ended up doing that whole ‘Philly Blunt’ thing which was a big hit and indirectly caused our demise as it caused problems for us. So we folded GFS and Stash initially started Subware and we re-emerged a few years later with BSF and eventually Project Dragon. PD was started with Stash, myself and Bleu – who unfortunately passed away a couple of years ago – doing it at our own pace and using our own facilities. Primarily, Stash is handling it and I’m just doing some art direction.
James Lavelle had a vision using my work with some of his artists on Mo’Wax and that introduced me to a whole new audience of people – and the level of attention that I’ve had with this book is a direct indication of how successful that has been.”

Is it strange that a lot of your fans don’t realise that you’ve been doing this for years, and that you were part of the original New York graffiti scene?

The book is a bit of a revelation for them, that twenty years ago it was all sort of going on to some degree when I was their ages. I mean, in a sense my attempt to re-educate or inform people about who I am generally has always been through my website – it at least talked about things or made mention to the past. So it serves as a virtual portfolio to who I am.
Up until the book hit, they probably haven’t had a chance to know that. Looking at my artwork, it looks contemporary, so maybe the thought would be, ‘Oh yeah – he’s a young artist working with them’… Which is a good thing, because it means that maybe they’ll discover more than they knew, so it becomes a learning process.
My popularity in Japan is huge, through the Bathing Ape involvement and the music – and they’re really up on the whole magazine culture. They always want to know what’s up and there’s a huge information exchange there. The guys over there are fanatical – I’ve been over there with my family and my kids are bugging out! They’re like, ‘Damn!’… They know how it is back home – back home, there’s no show! I hop on the train to the office, y’know?!
On the whole thing of getting up and getting fame, I’ve done that beyond my wildest dreams.

It’s evolved through its growth. Design-wise, I’ve kept the basic architecture which is really low-tech HTML. One of the things there was that I saw back in ’96 (when I was putting it all together, with people coming through Art Crimes and general surfing) is that apart from your monthly telephone bill it doesn’t cost a lot to make your own site. What looks like Flash isn’t! It’s just GIF animation. It predates Flash by several years.

For designers that realise what’s really going on, they realise that to create the whole thing by myself there’s some effort there.

I used to daily update the date – just so people would notice that there’s someone there. The fact that you can do all that publishing locally with no authority is awesome. You can just broadcast… boom!

People have made the parallels between getting up in graf and ‘getting up’ on a digital level through the web…

That’s an extension of the idea – you can totally create an environment where you can display your work. You can do so much now. All it takes is a couple of sleepless nights, where you’re sitting up all night busting something out!

The fact that I get 250-300 people a day coming through to my site is cool. I don’t really publicise it or anything… It’s nice when a magazine links it, but people just cruise on through usually. There are some people that are really like loyal followers and at that point I don’t really want anything from them other than their time. I definitely appreciate that they’ve come to visit and I try to make it as interesting as I can for them – certainly if they’re a first time visitor. That’s my effort there.

It certainly acts as a companion to the book… for me, anyway. What I want to do now is to create an umbrella dot-com or something and make it more current. But then again, when I look at other sites now and they show their clients and the work they’ve done, that’s their job and that’s what they do. And it should reflect their shit… I don’t think I really need to change my thing. Maybe do another one and link it through but that’s it maybe.

When I first built the site I had a 5300 Mac. I started on a PC initially but changed to a Mac, and I had a slow modem speed. It wasn’t ISDN or any of this fast hook-up stuff that you have these days. Even then it was a heavy load-up… a bit. But now it’s super-fast. The white index page, the GIF animations – that shit used to take forever! Now it’s quick. My site is huge… it’s about 3Gb and that’s a lot of content. Most people get some free space with their internet hook-up and don’t do anything with it…

At the end of 2000 I gave away 24 copies of my book to people who answered some random questions. Just for the fans really. People that got the closest to the right answer got a book Fed-Ex’d to them by me.

Spine Magazine : Futura 2000 interview

I guess that’s good, because people probably often put you on a pedestal. When in reality, you’re a regular guy.

I’m a very regular guy… and e-mail is the perfect way. I don’t really like talking on the phone, certainly to people I don’t know, so e-mail is perfect. I’ve had hook-ups many times through the web, which is great. It’s just up to you as an individual to make a connection!

The spontaneity of the web, like how you can just upload to it is ideal. It’s like spraypaint! Pssssst – it’s dry!

It’s funny to see that so many of the major NYC graf guys have got into the web so quickly and so well. There’s loads of them doing their thing on the ‘net – I’ve seen the sites from idols of the graf scene like Seen and Mare and all those guys…

Yeah, there’s Mare and his brother Kel is an amazing designer anyway – he did all of that Voice Of The Ghetto stuff. Flint is out there… Coco is trying to do something… It’s taken some of the older generation a bit longer to get into it… Like for myself – I’m 45! – it’s a bit harder for some of the older people to adapt to it. But I just happened to be into it straight away, so for me it’s already been ten years in the media so it’s not like something I’m afraid of.

Spine Magazine : Futura 2000 interview

You’re credited by many as having done the first ever piece here in London. Tell us about that!

Yeah, I know… I’ve heard that… I’m not sure I’m ready to shoulder the burden of what that actually means though! At that time I forget who I was with… I did that piece in Ladbroke Grove. I did it in the afternoon, the trains were rolling by – people probably thought i had permission to do it or something. It’s not like I came to bomb London or anything!”

The only time I ever did that was when I was in Holland… we were like a ‘mosse’ of people! There were a good dozen or so of us – and we BOMBED that place and I felt really bad about it! When you’re with that many people and one person breaks open a can… y’know?!! At that time, I was like, ‘oh God – it’s such a beautiful city!

Regarding the London piece, there was certainly already political graffiti and so on anyway. It’s not like I invented it over here or anything. There was already raw writing and maybe tags before I did that piece. It wasn’t like I came over here to get up on the subway system, or on the Tube or whatever – at that point I was already transitioning away from even being a writer back in New York. I think the last piece I did in New York was in ’81…

Was that the abstract wholecar?

That was in ’80. I did a couple of pieces after that – a couple of window-down things. That wholecar was part of a trilogy of wholecars…

You didn’t get to finish the second one, did you?

I did a black, white, grey version that just got dogged and I did a blue version… like blue, green kinda version… I got chased doing the second one and I can’t remember what happened to the blue one. That was supposedly going to be a triptych, but an independent triptych. I did one with Iz The Wiz on a ‘CC’ train – totally different wagon. I didn’t even take pictures of them – I don’t think photos even exist for the last two parts…

How did you get to do those graphics for the Robbie Gangemi Zoo York board a few years back? I picked up my one ages ago to ride originally, but I ended up keeping it and it’s been on my walls ever since.

Ahh, really? I know the kid, Robbie Gangemi. I did this other one too… I know those kids at Zoo – I know Eli who’s doing the graphics. And Robbie’s like, ‘Yo, will you do this design for me?’ – me and him used to hang out a bit together, so it was cool. He’s from Boston, I think.

On Style Wars

Style Wars became our kind of cinema that was where the dialogue was so well known that you could just do scenes, y’know, from the movie… like ‘I’m gonna be Kase in that scene where he’s talking about…”. It’s crazy. ‘Hey let’s watch ‘Style Wars’ and go paint!’ – it’s that kind of movie.

So what’s next for Futura?

Well it’s all about the book right now… doing the promotion and the signings and everything. As for the future… wait and see!


With that we checked out a few things in progress – including a dope little film that he’s made, comprised of clips from his favourite films and other bits – and then we filled his bags with Spine shirts and stickers.

And there wasn’t a clean surface left in sight.

If you haven’t already, make sure you spend an hour or two on his site. There’s lots of nooks and crannies to investigate and it’s changing all the time… You’ll find it at www.futura2000.com
Buy the book, ‘Futura’, now in its 2nd reprint, published by Booth-Clibborn Editions £30.00.

Words : Cyan Relish – Visuals : Scrawl-Hi (U-Dox)

3 thoughts on “Futura 2000 interview from Spine Magazine

  1. Chris Aylen says:

    Amazing to see this again: thank you for posting it up. Chris Law and I had a great time doing that interview. I did a sort-of follow-up piece on my old Trashfilter site a few years back: http://www.trashfilter.com/features/futura-2000-expansions-2012

    1. Glad you enjoyed the flashback.
      Yeah I remember that nice Trashfilter piece, still waiting for part 2 though :)
      (BTW, the Expansions opening was amazing, my first meet up with Lenny)

  2. Chris Aylen says:

    Part two was basically all the stuff that went off at a tangent. I planned to release it as a printed piece somewhere (possibly as a standalone printed newspaper), but I just haven’t had time to put it together yet! I still have dreams and plans to do something with it: I’ll let you know if and when I do.

    Lenny is the best dude ever. That Expansions show opening was fantastic.

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