After leaping on the back of trucks, writing his name on freight trains and using spray cans as tools of inspiration, THEN
discovered that his eye for design could lead him to The Magic Marketplace, his obvious skill could earn him a job working for Microsoft Zune and his drawings could land him an art show sponsored by Red Bull. After giving all props to his girlfriend, his mom and the AIDS Crew, THEN simply wants to stay true to himself and give back to the culture. With his heart displayed on the side of random buildings, on loose sketches and on apparel, the graffiti artist/graphic designer has worked for Akademiks, TROOP, Substance Skateboards and then some. Honestly, Format has interviewed many, but THEN there was one.
â€œThe idea is: youâ€™re solo in this world, you came in alone and youâ€™re going to leave alone but in the middle you can do something positive.â€
Format: How did you get the name THEN?
THEN: A lot of people have these real specific names or strong names and they usually want to make a statement with their names and I tried a bunch of different names. This one kid told me to pick a name that no one else had. I was like 16-years-old and so I went through all these magazines, did some research and just used the word â€œthen.â€ I realized no one had it and no one did the letter combinations. I tried to not paint on spots that were public, wrote on my walls, I tried behind factories and thatâ€™s how you learn. You practice. I looked up the name and I thought about â€œand then whatâ€ and so, it was almost like the past, looking toward the future type of thing. Thatâ€™s about it
Format: Take us back to the first time you tagged in a public place and give us a song that best represents what was going through your mind and body at the time.
THEN: A song? Wow. There is a song by Black Star called “Respiration” and in the beginning of the song there is a sample from a graff movie and the guy talking asks, “What you do last night?â€ The response was two whole cars and the first car in small letters it read: â€œall you see isâ€ and in big silver block letters it read: â€œCRIME IN THE CITY” and the beat drops [laughing]. It reminds me of getting over on a spot and the next day catching those fresh daytime flicks, knowing that people are going to see it and be like “Damn they hit that spot. They are crazy!” [Laughing] It’s just that feeling- the raw feeling of the city breathing even when youâ€™re asleep or on a billboard painting and feeling like youâ€™re on top of the world. It brings back memories of the whole night, you know? That song just reminds me of everyone walking in the streets, going into the deli to get a quarter juice or at the basketball court where I was painting a wall and getting over that night, and I am damn happy I picked that, over the quarter juice.
Format: What makes a graffiti artist â€œgreat?â€
THEN: Someone who can do all aspects of it and they understand art. Someone who is well-rounded in Graff- like you have a signature, like when you sign a check, but itâ€™s your name. But its cool when you have bubble letters, but on top of that, a straight letters and then you have to do more complicated things that they call â€œpiecesâ€ you have to know how to use colors and you have to know why certain things are done and its not because you saw them on a computer. Before computers, everyone went out and saw the piece. You were only focused on your letter styles, your expression and your area. Not so much, â€œI saw something on the Internet today, let me copy it.â€ I think itâ€™s about being well rounded and learning your history. Itâ€™s like being a Michael Angelo or studying in art school- you have to know art history before you can partake in it. You have to be a well-rounded writer and know your shit.
Format: Graffiti is one of the four elements in hip-hop culture. How much of a role do you think graffiti plays in the current state of hip-hip?
THEN: Um, none. [Laughing] It depends on what type of hip-hop youâ€™re referring to. Thereâ€™s a nation, thereâ€™s the underground- in underground itâ€™s always been there and it always will be, if weâ€™re talking about mainstream, I wouldnâ€™t even call that hip-hop- thatâ€™s more like advertising [laughs].
Format: How do you feel about graffiti Clean-Up Crews and do you think itâ€™s a valid job?
THEN: Everybody needs to pay bills and just like a garbage man doesnâ€™t want to clean up trash, Iâ€™m sure they just do it to get by and it gives them an option- health benefits and all that shit. As far as the Clean-Up Crews, theyâ€™re just like garbage men- theyâ€™re just doing a job that the city is paying them for or giving them that couch to sit on, a door to close, a plate of food to eat- I donâ€™t look at them as the enemy. They are [simply] regular people, just like you and me. I look at the Mayors and the law enforcement, as the people and then the guy washing the walls or paining is just following the leader. Itâ€™s not their fault.
Format: Have you ever been arrested while tagging or while taking the risk of displaying your artwork?
THEN: Um, nope. Iâ€™ve never been caught, but Iâ€™ve had too many close calls [laughing]. Like every time you get home after that one chase, its like that time you went drinking and you got all hung up and youâ€™re like â€œI pray to God, Iâ€™ll never do this again.â€ You sit there and say to yourself, â€œIs it really worth it?â€ The next day, when you walk out, when you see your shit gleaming on a truck, or when one of your friends call you and theyâ€™re in another state like, â€œYo, I saw a train pass by with your name on itâ€¦that shit is dope,â€ and then youâ€™re content with the fact that someone out there is seeing it and it makes it worth it.
Format: If you could create the ideal tagging crew whom would you choose to be on your team?
THEN: The crew Iâ€™m in already. The crew Iâ€™m in is called, â€œThe AIDS Crewâ€ and its funny because a lot of people see the name on the wall and people are like, â€œWhat? AIDS? Who would write that everywhere?â€ I was inducted by the crew and wasnâ€™t one of the starting members. It started as an acronym â€œAlone In Deep Space,â€ because in the art of graffiti whether youâ€™re rolling with ten people or not, you gotta take care of yourself. When cops come, everybody has to look out for him or herself. The idea is: youâ€™re solo in this world, you came in alone and youâ€™re going to leave alone but in the middle you can do something positive. Thatâ€™s how I look at it. The crew name is also like it disease. Not only does it consume you, but also it consumes your lifestyle. You put it everywhere and we spread it as much as we can. Whether we have positive reactions or not, we are not doing this for everyone else for ourselves and thatâ€™s all that matters.
Format: Robert â€œBanskyâ€ Banks is one of the greatest graffiti artists of all time. Where does he fit in your line-up of greatest artists of all time?
THEN: Bansky? I wouldnâ€™t consider him the greatest graf artist of all time. He picked the right thing at the right time and it made him happy and I guess it made a lot of other people happy too. Everything is personal opinion. Technically, things can be more refined or cleaner but I wouldnâ€™t say â€œbetterâ€ itâ€™s just to each its own.
Format: Which hip-hop artists would you compare him to- Jay-Z, Kanye West, Souljah Boy or Lilâ€™Wayne?
THEN: Iâ€™d say Talib Kweli or Mos Def. I couldnâ€™t pick any of those guys.
Format: Who would you compare yourself to, if your work was translated into lyrics and your can transformed into a mic?
THEN: Hmm, thatâ€™s a tough one. Iâ€™ll take a Mos Def, put them with a Rakim and mix it with a Jay-Z and some Animal Crackers. Sometime you pick out the giraffe and it looks like a hippopotamus [laughing] and you donâ€™t know what to think.
Format: Imagine you could go anywhere in the world to place the â€œTHENâ€ logo/sticker. Where and far would you go to place your mark?
THEN: Iâ€™ve been to Tokyo, Greece, Austria, Hawaii, St. Martin and I would carry my ink to write somewhere. Iâ€™d go to the moon if I could.
Format: In your work there are a lot of faces that resemble condoms with eyes and expressions. What are they and what do they represent?
THEN: Honestly, its funny you asked because I actually never named them but I have friends whoâ€™ve called them â€œdickheads.â€ When I think about it, when Iâ€™m on the verge of being arrested or something similar, you have these older people asking you, â€œWhy are you being a dickhead or why do you guys keep doing that shit?â€ itâ€™s just the embodiment of mean mugging the wall, paint it, you go spot it, paint it, you spot it and you leave and youâ€™re like, â€œYes!â€ People look at you all dirty or look at you like youâ€™re some type of a dickhead. My homeboy abducted â€œdickheadâ€ and every since then theyâ€™ve been â€œdickheads.â€
Format: Thatâ€™s so funny. Whatâ€™s your favorite kind of paint to use?
THEN: Whatever I can get my hands on. I like Rustoleum. It covers really good and they have a lot of dope colors.
Format: How long will you be tagging freights, walls and streets?
THEN: As long as Iâ€™m not paralyzed.
Format: Ha. Christopher Reeves.
THEN: Yeah, for me, its like asking, â€œWhen are you going to stop reading books, walking down the street or laughing?â€ Itâ€™s not a matter of when I want to stopâ€¦itâ€™s a part of my life.
To see more of THENâ€™s work, check out his Flickr Photostream.