From Stickers to Spray Paint with Blutt

By Jocelyn Geboy in Miscellaneous on Apr 26, 2006 9:00PM

It seems like everywhere we go these days we see stickers and little pictures and signs -- on newspaper boxes, on street signs, on dumpsters. Most of the time, they're on things we think are kind of ugly and they sort of brighten our day. Certain styles we like better than others, but we've noticed that we've started to recognize certain monikers or styles as belonging to unique individuals.

One such person is Blutt, a street artist who has his stuff all around town and has also partcipated in skate park benefits, the Handmade Market, and versionfest '06. We caught up with him after his recent showing at Clothes Optional earlier this month. blutt wall

Chicagoist: You are really active in the Chicago street art scene. What exactly is that? Is it vandalism? What's the difference between street art and graffiti? Tagging?

Blutt: I am pretty active in terms of stickering and postering, I'd say, but in terms of actually painting on the streets, well, that's basically stopped entirely. And that's for a couple reasons: 1) I have no skill with a spray can and 2) despite that, I could still put up my stencils on the streets, but as I get older, I have less interest in running through the streets with paint cans and stencils, being chased by security guards, police, etc. Some would call that copping out, and they're entitled to their opinion.

As far as defining "street art", that's tough. There artists all over the world changing that definition daily. It includes, but is not limited to: sculpture, installations, photography, brush painting, stencils, stickers, posters, stencils, spray paint, image projection, glass etching and tagging. Is it vandalism? Depends on who you ask. It can be. There's sort of an unspoken code that you don't post anything up on private property, but not everyone adheres to that. I personally stick to public property and/or boarded up/abandoned spaces.

I think most people would say that the difference between graffiti and street art is that graffiti's medium is spray paint and/or markers, while street art's mediums are much broader (many of which I listed above). Also, street art often tends to have a message of some kind, while "graffiti" is frequently just someone's moniker. Those are my feelings, but some might say there's no difference between the two, and the whole thing is further complicated by the debate on whether graffiti and street art become something else entirely once they begin to be created in private spaces rather than public and where the work is shown. Tagging is when someone simply writes their moniker or the symbol they use.

Read more about Blutt's art after the jump.

Chicagoist: You recently had an art opening (4-6-06) in the vintage clothing store Clothes Optional. Why that venue?

Blutt: The girl that owns it contacted me and asked me to do it. She is a fan and collector of "street art" and the like, and has done some openings there with other local artists that have a similar aesthetic. Some might think it a strange place for an opening, but I thought it was much more inviting than most galleries I've been to.

Chicagoist: How long will your pieces be up?

Blutt:It all hangs until the first of June, except for the small pieces that are in the back corner, which go home with people as they're bought.

Chicagoist: What inspires you in the world? Does anything really give you fuel for your fire?

Blutt:Sure, I'm inspired by a lot of things. The usual things apply, like music and other forms of visual art, but really it's people. The underdogs of the world are what keep me going, and luckily they come in all disciplines, ages and cultures.

Chicagoist: Do your parents know your art? What do they think?

Blutt:They do, but I don't think they think too much about it. I'm sure my mother would prefer that I was working for a design firm, working on hospital logos or something. My dad probably trusts me on it a little more.

Chicagoist: Your name. Blutt. You say it's the German word for blood -- with an extra T. What's your connection with it? Do you have a heritage there?

Blutt:I have a largely German heritage, and blood represents a lot of things to people, be it family, a bond, or just a necessary component of living. It means all of those things to me.gritty love

Chicagoist:There seems to be a real collaborative spirit in the street art world. Talk about this some.

Blutt:As solitary as being an artist might seem (and can be, if that's how you like it), there's definitely an element to it that lends itself to collaboration. There's an unlimited amount of ways to draw anything, and everyone has ruts. Collaborating introduces a new dynamic to drawing, and helps fuel ideas and keeps me interested. Also, I feel like street artists are generally peers, regardless of age, culture, social standing and paychecks. This is not the case for most things. Most endeavors seem to divide people with similar interests so as to create competition in pursuit of the almighty dollar. Most artist collaboration has nothing to do with business, and business was never an interest of mine, so it works out.

Chicagoist: Do you have any formal schooling or training in the arts?

Blutt:I have a BA in art & design from Columbia College. I don't use it at all in my day-to-day work, which is unfortunate. Having the student loan hanging over my head is no fun. In retrospect, I would've milked a lot more out of school. But that's hindsight for ya.

Chicagoist: Can anyone get into this?

Blutt:Yes, and that might be the best part. The fact that anyone can and does put up artwork in the streets without it being commissioned or sanctioned is what keeps it fresh. New people with new ideas on what street art becomes are what it needs to stay interesting.

Chicagoist: There are a lot of examples of this kind of work on sites like flickr -- is it strictly underground? Are you afraid of getting caught or in trouble?

Blutt:While it will always have that element, regardless of how overground it goes, it's not strictly underground anymore. Like any small grassroots movement, it's gotten co-opted by the mainstream, with more and more corporations adopting the street art aesthetic as a means to peddle their products. This is evidenced here in Chicago most recently by the Hummer and Sony PSP ad campaigns, which in 2005 featured graffiti-esque ads on city walls for these products.

There is a huge debate in the street art community as to how things like this affect the scene and how it should be dealt with. My stance on it is to largely ignore it and just focus on my work, as the nature of advertising is to glom on to a hot phenomenon, ride it until it fades back into relative obscurity, and then move on. The people that want to will still be artists once that element is gone and the rest will be weeded out, so I don't worry about it. I think there will always be an underground element, as more people discover it and change it.

I'm not necessarily afraid of being caught. The idea of getting arrested and having a police record really doesn't bother me too much, though I'm sure none of it would be pleasant. The fine that would inevitably come along with it is what I'd worry most about. Chicago is actually known far and wide for its intolerance of street art and graffiti, but my personal experience has been that the police don't bother you much unless there's been a complaint or you're carrying paint or markers. Police have stopped, watched me put something up, and driven off. On a couple occasions, they've called me over to the car, been curious about it, and kind of gotten a kick out of it. They sometimes ask for stickers for themselves or their girlfriends, believe it or not.

Chicagoist: Supposedly, street art is how Jean Michel Basquiat got his start. As you do more openings and showings, do you feel your work gains more legitmacy?

Blutt:No, but I don't paint or draw strictly for my own benefit, either. It's there to be seen. The more I can get it out there, the better. Outdoor, public work and studio work both have their place, and when that line blurs, I'm not bothered by which audience that sees the work. The more you worry about those kind of semantics, the more this becomes work.

Chicagoist: Lastly, what are you most proud of in your work?

Blutt:I'm happiest most with the work when the whole package comes together. Ii often use and image and some verbage together, and I don't always get what I feel is the best mix of the two. But when the color, texture, image, and word(s) all make the same point, it really scratches a certain itch.

Chicagoist local snapshot:

Favorite place to eat in Chicago:
The now defunct River Kwai.
Most underrated thing about the city:
As much as I gripe about the weather, it's gotta be the fact that we have the seasons.
Favorite "tourist" spot to be:
Downtown. I don't get there enough.

You can find more out about Blutt at his flickr site or his myspace profile. He's working on getting a website.

Images via blutt and smussyolay.