Brooklyn-based street artist Bast has been an intricate part of the street art scene for the past 10 years, with his wheat-pasted images prominently featured across New York and Europe’s urban landscape. Long before street art became a part of the mainstream, Bast was setting the tone and raising the bar with his iconic collaged imagery. He has established himself as one of the most respected street artists of our generation.
As fellow artist Banksy says, “The work isn’t so much a ‘melting pot’ of culture as a food blender set on max and left until the motor burns out.”
In this editorial, portraits by photographer Walker Brockington are BASTardized (deriving from more than one source or style) by the elusive artist. –Words and interview by Natalie Kates.
Natalie Kates: I’ve seen your street art pieces signed both Bast and Basto? Which do you prefer, and where does the name come from?
Bast: I prefer Basto. It’s a long story but basically R.B. (Repulsive Bastard), a heavy metal graffiti guy from Brooklyn’s South Shore High School said, “Yo, you should take part of my name.” From that I came up with Bast, which eventually evolved into Basto.
Is VAGA your first fashion/art collaboration?
No. I’ve collaborated with Agnes B. and Marc Jacobs. With Agnes B., they requested my images and made limited edition t-shirts, totes, and duffle bags. My work with Marc Jacobs was more involved and collaborative. Marc was interested in my opinion at every point, from picking the designs to the textiles.
Is your art ever influenced by fashion?
Yes, for sure. But nothing new, mostly ‘80s fashion. Think Miami Vice and TJ Hooker. Now those looks were the shit, especially the Vice. That’s so my bag! Personally I think a woman in a power suit is hot.
Do you think the art and fashion worlds have a lot in common?
Of course, that goes without saying. It’s been this way forever. Both worlds are always borrowing from each other.
Tell me a little about the technique you used to BASTardize Walker Brockington’s images.
For some of the pieces, I am using my bacteria patterns and overlaying them with collage cutouts from random fashion magazines.
How does your creative process work?
That’s a good question… (He ponders the question while cutting out magazines for this fashion/art editorial, creating one of a kind works of art for VAGA.)
Where do you find the materials for your collage pieces?
Years ago, I worked at an airport cleaning airplanes after flights would return from all parts of the world. I would get the most amazing magazines, newspapers, and clippings in languages I couldn’t read, but I loved the typography and liked that I didn’t know what the words meant. For my sculptures, most of my material I find washed up on a certain beach by Coney Island that I refer to as Crack Beach because of all the used crack vials and syringes. I have found some great objects there: mostly broken plastic bottles, wood, just random junk that gets bleached by the sun and torn apart by waves. I turn these objects into sculptures like guns or weapons. Sometimes the way objects are washed ashore inspires me.
¿A couple of years ago I was in Soho and saw someone dismantling one of your street art pieces to collect. What are your thoughts about art that was intended for the streets? Should it remain there? Or once an artist throws a piece up, is it a free for all?
It’s a free for all. If you can get it off the wall and save it from the elements, how amazing is that!
Have you ever been arrested while doing graffiti, or been in a hairy situation while wheat pasting a piece on the street?
It’s been a while, but yes. I’ve been arrested a bunch of times. The cops try to embarrass you or make you feel bad for being an artist. I have never had to do hard time, mostly overnight. It just comes with the territory. While there, I try to make the best of it.
As a private person, you have managed to remain elusive while your artwork has been highly sought after by collectors. I even heard you don’t go to your openings. Is this true or just an urban myth?
I have never been to one of my openings. I just want people to see the work. I don’t want to influence how someone sees the work. The viewer should be able to make up their own mind about it.
Has there been a manager, mentor, or dealer who has been instrumental in your career?
Yes, one is Patrick McNeil from Faile, who has pushed me a lot over the years. And George Benias from Opera Gallery in Soho, NY.
What art project are you most proud of?
The Boneyard Project currently on view at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona. Eric Firestone called me to participate in this group show where artists were asked to paint on airplanes and nose cones (some of the other artists included Richard Prince, Ron English and Kenny Scharf). This was challenging because it was my first three-dimensional art piece. I ended up spending three and a half weeks in Arizona painting a cockpit. The whole experience has opened up a new door for me creatively.
What’s on your iPod play list?
I don’t have an iPod. I use my Sony double tape player to listen to some of my favorite musicians like The Pogues, Morrissey, Malcolm McLaren and Klaus Nomi.
How would you describe your art?
International, collagist and constantly inconstant.
Bast is represented by Lazarides in London, Opera Gallery in Soho, NY, and New Image Art Gallery in L.A. Photography: Walker Brockington, Hair: Neil Grupp for Wella Professionals @ Workgroup, Models: Martyna @ IMG, Mariel @ Wilhelmina, Nairoby @ IMG, Louis Mayhew @ Red, Nyok @ Supreme
Visit the Brooklyn street artist—BAST official site at www.bastny.com