How long have you been selling in SoHo?
It's been going on four years, I reckon.
How did you start selling on the street?
I was first here in the in '80s, just skateboarding around, throwing blueprints on the ground, and getting chased away by the cops. So, I set up [a vendor stand] outside of Madison Square Garden at a Dead show for five days straight and killed it, made like $1000 a day selling $5 posters.
I failed out of art school, and I realized I was not cut out for employment, so I became my own boss, and just sold my art wherever I went.
What's the community atmosphere like in SoHo?
People come and go sometimes, but there are a lot of people, even those that don't sell their work, that hang out because their friends are out here. For the most part, even the locals here appreciate that the artists keep this place from becoming a strip mall. We're local manufacturers.
Sometimes there will be an anti-artist shop that moves in and doesn't get that half the people are here for the art, but for the most part people are cool about the art here. I've never seen anything else like it anywhere else in the world. We're completely embraced, we know each other, and we watch each others' backs.
Being surrounded by so many galleries, do you feel like your work caters to a different audience?
Galleries are pretty irrelevant. They're basically selling commodified art that is 40 years old. It's stuff that isn't relevant to today and now in a lot of cases. They're a part of the equation, so I don't want to diss them, because the people are coming to see art in those galleries might not see something there but then they see something on the street.
Sometimes I think it would be nice to have my work in a gallery and be sustainable so that I could spend more time making art rather than selling it, you know, but then there's something in the selling of it that keeps it fresh for me.
What's the hardest thing about selling in SoHo?
It's the coliseum. If you don't please the mob, you're thrown to the lions. People come here, they don't sell anything, and sometimes they think the people are the reason. They don't try different stuff out, and they get bounced outta here. A lot of people have been coddled through art school and patted on the back and it turns out what they've been making is just therapy, and nobody wants it. But other people are faster on their feet and they figure it out and they can make a living.
What advice do you have for other artists selling on the street?
Listen to your customer, within reason, and do the thing that you least want to do. I did an orchid specifically to match someone's couch, and for years I told myself that was the lowest you could go. One day I just decided to blow my designer friends a kiss, so I did this three-stencil orchid, and within 6 months, an 8-foot version that I had sold to a woman in Beverly Hills—she won a Nate Berkus contest for Best Design by a Non-Professional—was on the Oprah show. That's getting out of your own way.
How has selling in the street forced you to adapt?
I just realized that my idea of artistic integrity was getting in the way of success. People don't care if I spent a year on my hands and knees making dots with a nose hair; they either like it or they don't. I stopped suffering so much for my art. My process has changed from spending months on my hands and knees making dots [gestures to a single, painstakingly-produced image] to firing out an entire series in a night.
You have to be ruthlessly efficient. No one wants to pay somebody to paint for two months. Maybe they do in the galleries, but out here on the street you have to be efficient and ruthless and create perceived value and work hard.