Craig Stecyk, more of L.A.'s street art pioneers paint a colorful history
Ahead of MOCA’s sweeping “Art in the Streets” exhibition, opening April 17 at the Geffen Contemporary, The Times interviewed three street art pioneers from the show: Chaz Bojórquez, Craig Stecyk and Risk. A Q&A; with Stecyk follows below; read the rest of the story here and here.
Craig Stecyk helped define the surf-skate-punk-graffiti aesthetic of Venice and Santa Monica in the 1970s by publishing his photographs of Dogtown and Z-Boys skaters in various magazines. (He also co-wrote the 2001 documentary with Stacy Peralta.) The Geffen will have his posters and sculptures, with a monitor showing archival images.
His first skateboard
When I was 12 or 13 I made my own skateboards by finding oak drawer fronts — I’d ride around to forage, very much like I still do. And if you went overboard, you would take the wheels from Union ball-bearing steel roller skates. I stole my cousin’s skates, and she’s still angry about it.
The role of the 10 Freeway
When the Santa Monica Freeway was built, they condemned a bunch of houses with eminent domain. It created a rift down the spine of Los Angeles, suddenly a whole block through the city — gone. But if you were a roving kid, this was free material and no supervision: garages full of paint, houses full of furniture. We’d take parts from cars to make ad-hoc sculptures. I should have been taking pictures then.
I was always around cameras. My dad was an early documenter of Hiroshima during World War II, though he would never talk about the nature of that assignment. I started shooting surfers in 1962 or ’63 — I was interested in documenting what I was seeing, and magazines weren’t doing it yet. The skate shots came later — just like there was demand for Miki Dora in surfing magazines, there was soon demand for Tony Alva. But I shot everything for no particular reason, which is what I still do today.
Street art that inspires him
Street art is the original form of art, if you go back to Lascaux [cave paintings] or look around this town. I think the first great painting in L.A. is by [David Alfaro] Siqueiros on Olvera Street: “Tropical America” [now under restoration.] It’s a piece that rivals “Guernica,” an incredibly significant piece that was censored almost immediately.
In this country we spend over $5 billion a year on graffiti abatement and prevention. It’s strange to me. What’s the difference between the Sistine Chapel and the side of an underpass? Not much. So why do we criminalize beauty?
I still make these posters — some are etchings, some are hand-painted. I mount them on telephone poles, wherever I am. I’ve done them in Indonesia, Japan, Brazil, Africa, all over. I like to make incidental images — things that you don’t even realize you’ve seen.
Where to see his work on the streets today
There might be a couple posters in Ludlow, Calif., outside Route 66. Though I don’t know if they are still there. Put them up and they disappear in 60 minutes, even in places where you don’t see a single person all day.