Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Artist of the Week


It’s the typical story. A boy attends high school, but is unable to find clothes he likes, so he starts to make his own. He begins to print his own shirt and make his own hats, and soon his friends are wearing his designs and creating a buzz. This doesn’t sound typical to you? Well, the designs and the story of Escape76 are anything but typical. After high school and college he is not satisfied with the 9 to 5, and decides to start making clothing again. Enlisting the talents of some of the best artist in the business Formula Werks is born. His inventiveness and dedication to the underground artist continues to grow.

Beginning with Formula Werks (clothing and design) and then expanding into Freshly Dipped (unique artwork), Chicagoan Escape76 is firmly planted in the community and taking every opportunity to help the artists he is associated with. He provides multiple opportunities for artist to be seen and appreciated. Aside from this work, he also maintains a powerful and pointed portfolio filled with images of wartime, violence and anger. So whether it is through his clothing or his painting, Escape76 looks to make a statement and expand the thought process of the community.

Recently, Escape76 was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.

Orange Alert (OA): Where did the idea for Formula Werks come from, and have you been happy with its success?
Escape76 (E76): I suppose my original clothing experience came from junior high and high school, when I would make hats and shirts and sell them in the halls or to classmates or whatever. Back in 2003, I was visiting MBA schools, taking the GMAT, all that nonsense, and I started messing around making handmade notebooks and sketchbooks with my designs on them. I was also making T-shirts for myself. I have no idea why I was doing it. I just felt like doing something creative. I started putting Formula Werks on the different products. I wasn’t even selling them, just making them for myself or giving them to my friends. I still wasn’t sure I wanted to go to grad school, being that I’d probably just end up back at some big company, making money for someone else. People started asking about the shirts and I was literally like, “You know what? Screw it, let’s do this.” So, while I was still at my day job, I started Formula Werks as a real entity. I was really interested in the true operations of how to get clothing made, all that, whatever. After reading and studying and talking to people all over the globe, I ended up realizing that I actually had learned multitudes of information that was crucial to what we were doing. So there it went…a couple of years later, I left my day job and it’s been 2.5 years of only doing Formula and a bit of freelance work or artwork.

After that ramble…Am I happy with its success? No. I am happy with its reception and how far we’ve come…but as soon as you’re satisfied and you have nothing to accomplish, why do it? As soon as I’m fully satisfied, I’ll have to find something else to do. I love working and I don’t really think I can ever stop haha. We’ll be here for a long time to come and we’ll always be working to be better and better and do better and better things with our products.

OA: Is there anything you would have done differently, looking back over the last five years?
E76: Overall, I don’t think so. I cut my teeth for quite a few years in the music industry, so I learned all about who my friends are, who I should avoid, and all about failure and all that. That was a massive learning experience for me, and it helped me look at things in a different way whenever I have approached projects since then. I think the only thing I’d probably change would be to figure out a way to add some hours to the days. 24 is totally not enough, no matter what anyone says. Can I get an extra 12? At least like, 6 more? That’d be fresh. Seriously though…wait, that was serious. But yeah, I’m super happy to be working with the artists, friends, and partners we have. I love how we all have different styles, we all design or paint, and have a vision that’s a bit non-traditional to how most people seem to work within their confines of whatever they learned in school.

OA: Where Formula Werks deals with clothing, Freshly Dipped focuses on the sale of works of art and prints. You started this site last year, what has the feedback from the artists been like? Have sales met your expectations?
E76: The whole reason we started Freshly Dipped was to provide an outlet for artists. It’s not really there to be a money maker; the commissions are small and really just cover the cost of running the site. I have all of these friends and coworkers and acquaintances who produce amazing artwork. Whenever I would go to buy art, it would be, “Let me see what’s in my studio,” or “I don’t even know what I have available.” I’d spend so much time just making calls, emailing people, checking MySpace, looking at Flickr accounts, throwing text messages around – just to find out what’s out there, if it’s available, how much it is, and then trying to buy a piece after that was all said and done. It felt like a freakin’ rat race just to get a canvas to hang on my wall. Artists everywhere have artwork that’s not currently in a show or on display somewhere, yet no one sees it with the exception of a random photo on Flickr or MySpace or a personal website. So you end up being this communications director, hopping around trying to find out what you can get. I was like, eff all that, we need a central location where artists can put up whatever they want. And that’s how Freshly Dipped was born. Artists seem to like it; it’s easy on them, and as long as they promote the fact that they have work there, they sell stuff. We do promote the site through our other projects, but there is definitely a level of proactive behavior that is required to sell your own products. As far as sales go, I’d say the same thing about Formula Werks: You can always do better, no matter how well things are going.

OA: When was it that graffiti moved from the streets to galleries? Do you think anything has been lost in the transition?
E76: I’m probably not qualified to make statements regarding graffiti. I’m a fan, I’m not a writer and I was never really a part of that culture outside of appreciating the movement and knowing people who did it. If I had to guess, I’d say that it started moving really heavily into the gallery arena around five years ago. Sure, you had people doing it before that, but the masses didn’t seem to take notice and jump on this amazing subculture until fairly recently. I would actually say that nothing has been lost in transition. What might be lost – or what might not have ever existed – is the understanding of graffiti and its culture by your “average” art fan or gallery patron. In my view, people really need to read about and study and be interested in the artwork that they’re spending money on or talking about in different forums of life. A classic example is how everyone who’s not “hardcore” into the street art movement thinks that every stencil they see is a Banksy piece. And sure, the guy is a legend and tons of people owe him tons of respect and dues. But it’s like, people see that Brad Pitt buys a Banksy, and next thing you know, everyone is a Banksy fan. People don’t even take the time to read interviews with him or anything about his history as an artist. So you see other great artists like Nick Walker (or dozens other I could throw out there) doing their thing and making a lot of money and getting a lot of respect…but when they throw up a new piece on the street, 90% of the population thinks it’s Banksy. People need to get their learn on, for real. People see Blek le Rat and they’re like, “Who’s this old guy, trying to be like Banksy?” Get the fuck outta here with that. Seriously? Dude is the pioneer of this stencil-related street art game; a role model for people like Banksy, and some asshole is over there asking what the hell Blek is doing? That pisses me off to no end. Can you tell I’m getting angry? To sum it up, though, I really do not think that any artists are sacrificing themselves or their “realness” by doing gallery shows, making money off what they love. If you don’t want to make money off your art, fine. Then don’t. But to sit outside of shows yelling, or go on the Internet talking shit, that just makes you a whiny bitch. Do your thing, let other people do theirs. If we were all the same, life would be ridiculously boring. The thing that gets lost is the history and awesome story about where this culture came from and where it’s going. People should seriously just read, pay attention, and focus. Whatever happened to the days back when you were interested in something and you’d look it up, read about it, and educate yourself? It’s way more valuable to own a piece of someone’s artwork and know about them and their culture and where they came from than to just walk into a gallery, drop 20 G’s on a canvas, and then brag to your friends about your new canvas while you sip on some bullshit vintage red. Life is too chaotic, people are all A.D.D. now, no one knows what the hell is going on and no one knows anything anymore. So damn aggravating! Just read something. Seriously. Talk to an artist. Get to know people and their work. Love them for who they are and from where they came, not because you saw that some celebrity bought their canvas. You will be rewarded for your true interest, I can tell you that much.

OA: Your personal work definitely takes aim at specific targets. What it is that drives you to make such strong statement while others paint flowers and aliens?
E76: I’m passionate and I’m bitter. That’s probably the combination that leads me to vent through painting. I have no problem with people who might paint things that some may think are less intense. It’s just what I like to do, though. Imagery that makes people seriously question how completely fucked up this world is – that’s what gets me going. I never force it; I paint whatever comes to my head, usually out of frustration about something I’ve seen, heard, or read. It might be a culmination of something over months, or something that just pissed me off one day. I can’t say, though, that I have any sort of a master plan or anything like that. It is what it is, and I hope, even if people don’t enjoy it, that it makes them think.

OA: What's next for Escape76?
E76: Work, work, and more work. Maybe some bitterness with a smile here and there. Travel, painting, and making some really ill clothing. My shameless promos today are: Check out all the guys involved with Formula Werks; they’re some of the best artists in the world. And check us out online at and Word is bondage.

Bonus Questions:

OA: Coffee? If yes, what is your favorite type of coffee and where is your favorite coffee spot?
E76: All day, every day. I go through a 10-cup pot every day, for the most part. Because I drink so much coffee and rarely leave my work space, I almost exclusively brew it at home. I can’t get it very often, but Lion Coffee is by far my favorite. It’s from Hawaii and if it were illegal, I’d sell all my possessions and my body to get some of it. It’s my crack. As for a favorite coffee spot…I’m going way out on a limb and saying anything in Europe. Paris, specifically. I’m so mad that they banned smoking in France. That’s a sure sign of the apocalypse. Sitting at a café in Paris, chain smoking, is by far one of the best pastimes a person can have.

OA: Do you listen to music while you paint? Who are a few of your favorites while painting and in general?
E76: Sometimes I do, other times it’s just silent. I keep my iPod on shuffle, all the time. I listen to everything, so you won’t really find me fiending for anything specific. Right now on my iPod: Gogol Bordello, the Ramones, the Misfits, some mixes by my guy Ryebread (Chicago guy, he makes some of the best mixes, period), a bunch of old Wu-Tang, the first P.O.S. album, the soundtrack from that UK TV show “Life on Mars,” and, um, a ton of other stuff. It runs the gamut, no question.

For more infomation on Escape76 please visit his website, and check out Formula Werks and Freshly Dipped.


Anonymous said...

wordy, tasty, efficient. just bought a shirt.

Blogger said...

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