Stash on street art, sneakers and the Singapore graffiti scene

Stash on street art, sneakers and the Singapore graffiti scene

Stash, an OG in the graffiti art scene, was in Singapore recently. We sat down with the legend for a chat.

Mr Stash

Stash (Josh Franklin) was in Singapore for the Culture Cartel 2018 convention held at the F1 Pit Building from December 1-2

Stash has gone from writing graffiti between train stops in the dead of the night to designing products that are recognized worldwide. Having done this for three decades, we ask Stash what graffiti has become, does he like what he sees, and does he have to buy his own sneakers?

Stash (@mr_stash), real name Josh Franklin, was born and raised in New York and is an acclaimed artist whose foray into graffiti began in the early ’80s when he was a grade school student.

At 17, his work was exhibited alongside that of pop art pioneers Jean-Michael Basquiat and Keith Haring. Stash, however, stayed true to graffiti throughout and his last underground piece was created in 1987. His work caught the attention of the brands and in the ’90s he collaborated with the likes of Nike and Bape. Applying his designs to products people could wear gave graffiti the platform it needed, which led to the public acceptance of the art form.

Stash was in Singapore for the 2018 Culture Cartel convention last weekend and we were given some time to ask him a couple of questions. We talked about everything from art to sneakers, and the possibility of a Round Two pop-up in Singapore.

[pullquote class =”left”]You know it’s a big world, but a small community of artists sorta find each other throughout the world. Common interests keep us together.[/pullquote] Can we backtrack to find out how you first got into graffiti?
Just by living in New York City and riding the subway train, going to school, seeing what was going around me was attractive and kinda drew me in. This was the early ’80s, I was in grade school.

So you saw graffiti all around you and decided, “I’d give it a shot”?
Pretty much. It was an interesting community so it wasn’t just to do the writing, but it was to sort of be around certain people that I thought were very interesting. Before I knew where the yards were, we would go Sunday mornings when there was nobody on the trains and write graffiti in between train stops. Later we learned where they parked the trains and we’d go at night, take our time.

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Has graffiti culture or the way graffiti is being done changed over the years?
Of course. Graffiti has matured and grown up. It started on subways, now it’s on the streets, clothing… It is constantly evolving and the audience is growing. And with that, it changes.

Mr Stash

Stash’s iconic fat cap design on display at the 2018 Culture Cartel Singapore

We know that part of the reason you are here in Singapore is due to your relationship with Jahan, the lead curator for the art section at Culture Cartel. How did you guys get to know each other?
I met him through his travels to New York – or I think I might have met him in Tokyo. You know it’s a big world, but a small community of artists sorta find each other throughout the world. Common interests keep us together.

You’ve perhaps heard a little (or a lot) about Singapore’s graffiti scene. What are your thoughts on it?
I’ve been constantly asked about what I think about the lack of visual graffiti in the community but Singapore is not that kind of city – they don’t like that, so it would look out of place. To me, I’d be like, “Hey… who did that? Why would you do that here? It’s so beautiful.” You can carry the same energy and interest in the work but you don’t have to deface a building to share that interest. We have a common interest in artistic vision but there are rules and laws and different ways that we live, so we also have to apply that. Coming to Singapore I can see the energy; I can feel it. A lot of tattoos, a lot of clothing on, a lot of creative energy but it has to be within the right space.

Knowing Singapore’s testy relationship with graffiti, are you surprised at all that we have an event such as Culture Cartel that’s supported by the Singapore Tourism Board?
I think it really speaks volumes; speaks loudly about how your tourism board reflects the youth community very positively because they’re like, “Hey, here’s a community that can live in Singapore and not disrupt the day to day of our community.” I think it’s amazing, to be honest with you, to see this kind of event. I think events like these really celebrate on a bigger scale what we do globally. I’m from New York, you’re from Singapore, wow, we’re all into the same thing, man.

Mr Stash

Stash customizing a pair of baby Air Force 1s

What’s the graffiti art scene in New York like now?
In New York right now there are a lot of mural festivals – globally too, actually. But it’s not just graffiti art, it’s a merger of cultural artistic stuff – so that’s kind of what’s going on; it’s no longer just spray paint, or graffiti, or lettering. You couldn’t do that on a subway car at night. Someone doing a big mural – that’s not where I came from, I was trained a different way but we’re all now on the same surface; we’re all out in the open. We’re no longer in the dark doing our thing.

One of your early collaborations with Nike was the Air Max BW, a shoe you’ve said you loved growing up. What is it about the BW?
It was really the first time they exposed the airbag because BW means “Big Window”, so as technology advanced, you got something with comfort that fit your foot that was designed like a car. That shoe was a big favorite of mine so when I got asked to work on some shoes, I was like, “Can I do the BW?”, and they were like, “What? Really?” I don’t think anybody on the art tip has since done it.

Still on the BW. Would you say the many panels on the BW make it a great canvas for customizing shoes?
No, not necessarily because all shoes can be seen to have many panels. To this day I love that shoe, I’d do one now if they’d let me. But you know what’s crazy, when I was making shoes or allowed to work with Nike on things, they’d ask, “What color do you wanna make that? Do you wanna add this?” We didn’t get to do what Virgil did, which is tear a shoe apart and put it back together. My very first shoe – I still have the email where I ask the head of Nike, “I wanna do a velcro Swoosh” – like, do a neutral color and sell blue, red, whatever color Swooshes. Nike legal said no but now it’s the new thing. The rules were different then and now these modern day guys get to do all these great stuff. Let me go in there now and do a Virgil thing, see what I come up with, ’cause I did a lot of great things that I think really still resonate with the sneaker community.

Mr Stash

Stash x Nike Air Classic BW (2003)

Is this an open call to Nike to maybe hit you up again for another collab?
I mean, I did a shoe not long ago, the Spiridon. Once again, it wasn’t a, “Hey, do whatever you want”; I didn’t have the creative freedom that these other guys got, so I’d be curious to see if given the same freedom, what could I create? ‘Cause if you have them backing you, only good things can come.

[pullquote class =”right”]You can carry the same energy and interest in the work but you don’t have to deface a building to share that interest.[/pullquote]Do you have to buy your own sneakers? What sneakers do you buy when you do buy them?
Oh, every day, every day. I just bought a pair from Mandeep (of Limited Edt) the other day, I was like, “Yo, I need a pair of those”, and he was like, “OK, I’ll hook you up’. But I’m not looking for hookups, the hookup is being able to get the pair these days – it’s not getting it for free. It’s like, “But you’ll save me a pair, right? I’ll go to the ATM and when I’m back you’re gonna have it right?” – that’s the hookups these days. It’s no longer, “I got you bro”, so yeah, I buy my shoes all day long.

When did you first meet Sean Wotherspoon of Round Two, and how did you end up designing the front of the store?
I think I hit Sean up on the internet, in the DM, like, “Hey man you’re coming to New York, we should hook up and do something together. I’m a big fan of what you do.”  When I met them and saw how they worked, I was like, “Wow you guys are awesome” – they’re a really good crew, really amazing model. They’re a great bunch. Me designing the store came about when Sean said he was building New York and ComplexCon was going on, and I told him we should do something for ComplexCon together and that’s kind of how it all started. I told him to let me paint his sign rather than have a sign company do it for him. So that’s how it started, and it’s been a great friendship since.

Mr Stash

The Round Two NYC storefront is designed by Stash

Any comments about a Round Two Singapore pop-up being in the works?
Round Two in Singapore? I don’t want to blow you guys up. Listen, when Round Two makes a move, you will know. That’s what I’ll tell you. Those guys come correct everywhere they go. They have my stamp of approval. But I did hear of that, I heard that. I heard a little murmur, that they might do something. I don’t know though, I don’t hang with them that personally, but I did hear Singapore in the conversation, but it’s probably your man Fruitcake.

Follow Stash on Instagram for your fix of #visualmaintenance.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Read more: Leaks of the Air Max 98 “Chinese New Year” have surfaced

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