According to Stash, a visit to L.A. longer than a couple of days is rare for him, but when he’s here, he seems to enjoy it. In town for not one, but two showcases, the East Coast artist made some time to catch up with us at The Seventh Letter gallery on Fairfax Ave., which will play host to his first solo show in some time, “Sprayed in Full.” Never afraid to speak his mind, Stash seems perplexed by the current exhibition on display, Brandilism. Glamorizing spray cans with corporate branding makes him feel some type of way and its evident, there no denying it. That’s who Stash is though. There’s something gravitational about his bravado and lack of fear for honest opinion.
I’ve only met Stash one other time, at a trade show in Las Vegas some years back. During our second meeting, he was beyond complimentary and appreciative of the opportunity to talk about his upcoming projects with us, which also includes a photo exhibit with Leica. Much like other high profile figures in the art culture/fashion/sneaker scene, those in the know, seem to always have an opinion about him, and whether positive or negative, he doesn’t really seem fazed by it. One thing that did ruffle his feathers though was the subject of the internet. For those unfamiliar, Stash has had a long battle with cyberspace. Where anyone can say what they want and hide behind a screen without repercussions. He’s been at the tail end of a lot of it. We touched upon that subject, as well as a few others, all of which seemed therapeutic in a way.
Stash has been a store owner, a brand head, a photographer, designer and consultant. From working with Burton, to Nike, to now more closely with Reebok, he’s has had his hands in the cookie jar more than once. The process of creation is something he feels is overlooked and undervalued in a world that’s consumed with instant updates and anonymous opinions.
I met up with Stash at The Seventh Letter with The Hundreds managing editor Alina Nguyen to conduct the interview below.
ALINA NGUYEN: So you sold your sneaker collection?
STASH: That was years ago. I kind of hit a wall. I was reconfiguring my office and my life. Sort of looking back at the last decade of an over-amount of consumption. Being in the industry, I ended up with a lot of footwear. It was an easy move for me, and not personal whatsoever. Just leather and rubber.
AN: The first shoe you designed was in ’97, right?
The first shoe was in ’97 or ’99 with Gravis. Dabbling with some of their stuff. I had a brand called Subware and they let me do one of their models with my branding. It was great. And Burton! You’re like, “Oh my god, Burton!” You know? It was still a “Nike” to me-they still carry the same prevalence as a brand. Burton really is my alumni. Nike is sort of like I went to Rutgers, and then I went on a team, but people forget where I came from, they just look at the team. But really where I came from, and my good friend Greg and his wife Ann-Marie really sort of embraced me at the time when I really needed to learn how to transition myself in the corporate world, yet still keep my integrity. I learned a way of working with an industry. And that only helped later with Nike.
AN: How did you approach the initial project with Nike?
At the time and I still feel this way, I wanted to use graphic language that represented the graffiti movement without the lettering or b-boy character holding the blunt. Because it was too overwhelming. When the graffiti movement commodified and really became wearable. The birth of streetwear. It was overwhelmed with the illustrative hand of what graffiti characters represented. The overdone lettering. Great stuff, but I was like, I gotta break away from that. And I’m one of the guys that started writing graffiti before a lot of these younger illustrators adapted the style to clothing. So I wanted to create a language graphically using the icons and things of our movement. and I was always into the fat cap. You know, that little motherfucker does SO much. Really? The little nozzle that could. It’s so crazy when you think about it. And that’s how it started for me. That was really my humble shoe beginnings as it were.
Photo courtesy of Del Toro
AN: You mentioned earlier that this was all when the industry was different, this was before the term “hater” was around.
AN: I read another interview where you mentioned that you don’t like the internet. Do you wanna talk about how that has changed the industry?
Like anything, it’s a tool, right? Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. The internet, as great as it is, I can get online, I can learn, I can research, I can go back in time, but the anonymity. And the contempt of people constantly seeing how good you’re doing and their lack of an ability to emulate and do likewise breeds contempt. And so it’s so easy for me to sit with you guys now and say, “You guys are wonderful! Hugs and kisses!” And (pretending to type) later, “The two biggest assholes came by the office today.” And hit enter. ENTER. I get goosebumps when I talk about it. And it all started over the sneaker industry because Nike Talk was one of the first real blogs that focused on footwear specifically and the sneaker movement. And I knew these kids handles, I KNEW who these kids were, they were coming into my store trying to make friends and then they’d SHIT on me online. And I was like, are you fucking kidding me? Say it to my face, motherfucker. You know? Like I’m here, dude! I didn’t design the Air Force 1, if you don’t like the choice that I made on the fabric or the material, write Dr. Bruce Kilgore, he designed the fuckin’ shoe, I didn’t design the fuckin’ shoe. And then they go, “Dude. Fat motherfucker.” Alright, yo, what? And then you start reading them and you (inhales) get amped like, “I can’t do this, bro!” ‘Cause it’s anonymous. It means nothing. And I finally flipped it and I did an interview not a long time after that where I said, “Hey man, if you wanna shit on me, I still did something right. I made you talk about me.” It’s funny, there’s always someone that you know not rooting for you and always someone you know trying to knock you down.
I’m a little older than this current generation. Like I feel like the old guy at the party sometimes. I’m not shy, I’ll say it, I’m 46. So for me, growing up, we had words like FLY, FRESH, DOPE. You wanted to emulate and hype up the next dude and be part of it. You didn’t wanna start shitting on someone. You didn’t wanna be known as that guy. Debbie downer. It’s so easy when you don’t have to fake somebody. Eye contact has stopped in this world. Hang on, we can do this like this (picks up his phone and pretends to text). There’s not enough contact. And that’s why I don’t like the internet. There’s no taste, smell, feeling. There’s no way words that can be taken two different ways. The nicest thing can be misconstrued as the biggest, harshest sentiment. It’s crazy to me.
Photo courtesy of Hypebeast
AN: How do you feel like that sentiment has had a hand in the commodification of streetwear and sneaker culture?
There’s two parts to that, right? There’s the business, young, entrepreneurial side that will do anything to catch the hustle and get that Jordan to resell before you or whatever’s hot. That Supreme shirt. Then there’s the purists who are really just, “Yo man, I collect the shit I love and it’s a passion. I get two pairs, one to wear and one to sell.” And that internal battle is a friction already. People say, “Oh, he’s a reseller!” Resellers are labeled to be haters. Then why are you knocking his hustle, dude? That’s helping our move. See, where there’s a MOVEMENT, we gotta keep MOVING. And it’s the internal struggle and strife that I don’t like. Because we’re all supposed to get along with each other. Because we’re a subculture. They labeled who WE are. “Graffiti will never last.” I’ve heard that in my life. I’ve got two children who were brought up on me using spray paint. it’s amazing, what I’ve seen in my time. The youth today, I have a problem with, because I don’t think they get it. And there’s this undercurrent of this sense of entitlement, because it’s too easy. The internet makes things way too easy. Because we live in such a subject-to-change environment. Nobody embraces anything longer than 30 seconds. Oh, that’s already out, this conversation is over. Blue’s out, we’re onto green. Oh, you didn’t get the memo? Green’s out. Nothing’s embraced. You buy a new computer, you ’round the corner, they’re putting up a new billboard for the new one, you’re like, what the fuck, I just bought that. That’s fucking our lives up, that’s fucking our planet up, that’s fucking everything up. We don’t embrace anything. What can you say is a heritage thing that we’ve seen in our generation. Certain things are striving for that, but it’s very hard because the generation doesn’t embrace that. They just want the next, newest, dopest, latest, greatest fuckin’ whatever. It’s kind of sad.
LUIS RUANO: That’s one thing I actually wrote about recently. A little piece on SLAM Magazine. I used to collect every issue and I would flip to the back and they had this section called Kicks where it would show 10-15 pairs of shoes that were dropping. And it’d be once a month. And I was on Nike Park and Nike Talk. But the thing back then is, there was just something cool about it where you would look forward to something and it would remain relevant for a month. But when the blogs came and the internet amped up, it’s like, you see a Nike, two hours later it’s on the third page. You forget about it. Information’s coming and you don’t embrace it anymore. It just moves like that [snaps fingers].
Here’s the irony. I have two children so now I’m looking at this generation that have this sense of entitlement. Kids that act like you owe them a fucking favor. Pick up a fucking broom. Make a fucking effort, dude! Don’t act like you’re owed anything. It’s too easy. Kids don’t do anything. “I got 8,000 friends online.” Yeah, you have two people you make eye contact with. As a parent, I have a 14-year-old daughter and I’m devastated at the life, because they never shut off. Tweeting and texting. Facebooking. When do you get to live? When do you get to be a young lady and actually interact? It’s all that I’ve said and I’ve watched them grow right into it and there’s nothing I can do.
AN: You talked a bit earlier about how you don’t like the term Brandilism. Do you wanna talk about that?
I read about it online, I saw it, and my first reaction was, I don’t know how I feel about that. It’s almost sort of like, are you taking the piss or are you embracing it? Because it’s too hard in our movement to just come up on shit. What about the rest of us that actually really embrace it? I’m confused by it. It didn’t sit necessarily well. I thought it was kind of clever. Reminded me of Tom Sachs’s early work work where he co-branded food and high fashion. We all draw from the same pool of inspiration. It’s not really… maybe you missed the window by a few years. But that’s me. I’m like the little fat kid that chases the bus like, HEY, wait up. That’s me. So I don’t know how it sat with me. I thought it was way too minimal for the room and I don’t think it really emulated our movement, really. I just thought, okay, whatever dude. I never met him, might be the nicest guy in the world, I could feel like a dick when I meet him. It’s not a personal play. There’s just a lot that goes on in our movement and a lot in the subtlety of how things are perceived.
Photo courtesy of Foot Patrol
AN: Let’s talk about your recent work with Reebok.
You know, all my work with Nike, I’ve never been under contract. Reebok started flirting with me after my work with Mike Packer in Jersey. His family business was 100 years old and he reached out and I thought, “Wow, what an amazing DNA.” I thought it was endearing-100 years of the grandfather, the father, now him. So I drop in, the shoe turns out to be a Reebok, but I’m not a politician. Even though I’m known to be on the Portland side of things. It really made a splash, so it made the people at Reebok, who had been flirting with me to reach out. Ryan Cross (Reebok) and I opened dialogue and I said, “Hey, if I’m gonna do it, you’re gonna be taking me out of the game for a lot of things that I could be doing. How deep is your love?” Not financially, more time-wise and product-wise. I’m more interested in product than anything else. In the end, that’s what defines us at the end of the day. I did my part, are you gonna do your part? Because if you don’t, you’re gonna make me look like a dick. ‘Cause in the end, Reebok is still Reebok, but I’m the guy walking down the street. Stash. I’m not a team crew, group, or anything, I’m me. Stash ain’t huge. There’s a difference in how I approach things, because I think about the end game. I try my best.
People don’t know how things are made. Months of stuff before one thing gets made, looked at, decided, or even out to the public. Half the public doesn’t know that. They don’t know. It’s a fucked up thing, because when you work for a brand that big, I can only hope that they take what I do and put it back out the way it’s supposed to. At the end of the day, they’re the big guy. With any of these companies, you work on things so far in advance. For instance, I worked on the Question and I was asked a year ago to come up with a colorway, scheme, story. Did it. Everybody said, “Oh!” You know how it is, it could be the worst shit, but when it comes out people go, “AW, that’s dope, b.” When it comes from 2-d to 3-d. Then you refine things, then it becomes what you want. But the initial leap. “That looks better on paper than it does on the screen!” Then it looks better as product than it does on paper. Then you go, tighten this and figure that out. You’re like, oh please, don’t fuck this up for me, dude. And then you get the product and you go, “Marketing, we’re all in agreement, right? You’re good?” ‘Cause I’m gonna be the asshole that’s out there. And then that doesn’t happen right and you’re like, alright, alright. How bad is the hit? Can I go to SneakerFest? Can I go back down those roads again? How bad is it? Because that’s how hardcore sneakerheads are. Sneakerheads are brutal. They’re brutal. They don’t play. They keep us working extra hard and not fuckin’ around.
LUIS RUANO: I remember when I got into streetwear, it was ’03? SB’s are what I took off with in ’03. Back then we wanted stuff that was limited, that couldn’t be obtained just anywhere. But we were kids and didn’t really get the business aspect of things. That way of thinking tends to repeat itself. A lot of people are still narrow-minded like that, where if something is widely available, they’re gonna crap on it. I’m at the age where I understand that if you’re gonna put something out and work so hard on it, you want everyone to see it and everyone to have it.
Back then, the word was selling out. “Yo, I ain’t no sell out, yo, I only made eleven!” But I’m bringing the same integrity, the same mentality of, yo this is me, dude, I’m working at Leica, I didn’t change. There’s a fine line between the balance of bringing who you are and what you’re known for realistically. Like our opening Friday at the Leica Gallery. They don’t know how we roll. They’re a bit sort of off the beaten path for our lifestyle branding. And I can’t wait to see, like, oh shit, just our friend show up. Then, what Sean B, that’s my dude. His crew. Free Range LA, their crew. Everyone. The convergence of the scenes that we’ve created is gonna be overwhelming. They’re gonna bug the fuck out on Friday, I think.
AN: What about your show here at The Seventh Letter?
Casey and I from The Seventh Letter know each other from the early graffiti days, from the ’80s. We reconnected at one of the Agenda shows and as I watched what he was doing with AWR and MSK, I was like, “Wow, this guy’s making moves!” Every trip, I’d come and see him when I was here in LA. We always talked about doing stuff. I hadn’t really focused on my art. It’s kind of weird, just on a kind of back pedal. At the beginning I was a graffiti artist on subways. I started making paintings. I started making T-shirts to pay for my studio. But then I turned it into a clothing business and never had time to go to my studio. So I was kind of battling that, but more in the graphic world promoting and doing it. I didn’t lose sight, but I didn’t get to do as much as I wanted to. Me and Moe had a show in Europe and Casey said, “It would be cool if you guys could do something here.” I was too busy, then things changed, and I said, “Dude, yo, I’m ready.” That’s sort of like everything in my life. That’s what I like about face time. Not the program on the phone, but when you actually sit with people and talk. It was all those visits of me making time for my friend. It was acknowledged. It wasn’t an email.
AN: How was working on the show?
I killed myself the last two weeks. I literally thought I was gonna die. I’ve never used my arm like that. The way I set up my studio this time, I literally blew the muscle out of my arm. I couldn’t lift my arm for two days. I literally painted for 10 days straight. I was traveling, I had small windows of time. I really bruised my whole body. I realize now how old I am! Your finger’s connected to your elbow-you know that old hokey pokey shit? They’re not lying, they’re not lying! This finger goes all the way up here to your elbow, then down here, then up to your shoulder. I was like suffering from the repetition of how I was doing this. I laughed, everybody was like, “You did not.” I was walking around with a finger brace. People said, “From what? From spraypainting?!” I said, “Yeah, from spraypainting.” Yeah, I worked really hard. But what a great opportunity. I love Los Angeles. As a New Yorker, to come out here and have all the friends in the industry, it’s a great experience.
AN: Lastly, I wanted to ask you about relevance. With the world moving so fast and people having such short attention spans, how do you manage to stay relevant these days?
By being in the room. Literally, again, I think human contact is relevant. It’s like Bobby [Hundreds] traveling all the time. I think that’s an amazing tool. The willingness of putting ourselves out there keeps us relevant. We’re never too big to stop and answer a question, we’re never too psyched on ourselves to not turn and embrace the next generation or encourage. It’s all about that. I could be as hard as I wanna be, but I’m the softest guy you’ve ever met. Which IS that hard exterior to keep you the fuck away from me so you don’t get to the soft part. It’s this irony. It’s this daily struggle I have of finding the balance, right? It’s not ego. It’s so not ego. People just label it. Everybody’s quick with the diss, but they don’t fucking know. You might know me, but you don’t know where I’ve been.
Relevance to me is a matter of making an effort. It’s what you do today that makes a difference… that’s my favorite line from the movie Black Hawk Down.
I have to use that because that’s where I got it from, but it resonated with me! It’s a scene from the movie where a helicopter crashed and the army guys got in and they got shot up and they didn’t expect to get beat down as hard as they did. And they’re driving all their boys back half-dead and they gotta go back in and the Sargeant’s mental. One guy’s like, “I don’t know if I can go.” And he’s like, “That’s okay. That’s up to you, but it’s what you do today.” I was like, oh my god, this is the most motivational shit! How hard is it? If everybody made that much effort anymore. People don’t. They just don’t. We don’t take time. That’s the biggest problem. The only thing we don’t get back is time. And that’s the only thing that we take for granted. All of us. Everybody.