Only a few unique individuals would know what it must’ve felt like painting New York city during modern graffiti’s infancy in the late 70′s and early 80′s, back when those who braved the public walls with their cans and brushes barely knew what to call the movement they just started. There were no Juxtapoz magazines or the Instagram app to immortalize their notoriety, nor to look to for reference. All they had were a great deal of chutzpah and that almost trance-like devotion to that beast of an art form that they have spawned.
What an exciting time it must’ve been, to start something that hasn’t been done before, in a scale that engaged an entire city, then a country, then the world.
Only a few privileged individuals would know what it must’ve felt like, to participate in the birth of an artistic movement. Eric Orr is one of those few, being one of the first artists of the early ’80s inspired to enhance his urban environment. He was one of the first graffiti artists to use an icon or character in his work, veering away from the typographical “wild style” bombings all over New York. He is also the only artist to have collaborated with Keith Haring in the New York subway system.
Eric’s relationship with music is also deeply entrenched. His creative path had crisscrossed with a multitude of hip hop legends, such as Afrika Bambaataa and Jazzy Jay. Nowadays, music is still a vein that links to his artistic pulse, collaborating with Serato on his Custom Clear Vinyls and Labels. DJs and art-collectors alike the world over have collected these editions.
These days, Eric swaps his time between New York and New Zealand. He also recently painted at 5pointz in NYC, an entire city block covered in art. I recently conversed with him on his art, current endeavours and dreams for the scene in New Zealand.
1) You are originally from NYC but you split your time between there and New Zealand. How long has it been since you started having NZ as your other home?
Well it started in 2007. That was my first visit to Aoteroa. I was commissioned by SkyCity to paint on (3) 3meters x 3meters canvas’ at the bottom of the Sky tower and to participate in various art workshops as part of Auckland festival that year.
2) You were one of the first graffiti artists to make character-based graffiti, as opposed to typography. “Robothead” has had numerous different incarnations and had been on so many different surfaces, from walls to canvas to comics to vinyl. “Robothead” must’ve meant something different to you when he first came into being compared to now. Or has it?
The look of my iconography has changed over the years but it still means the same thing from when I first started to develop it,freedom of expression.
3) Tell us about your relationship with Keith Haring. (and the work you’ve done with the Keith Haring Foundation a few years ago)
We were friends. We formally met at the Roxy roller rink in NYC, summer 1984. I admired what he was doing and he had admiration for my work. We were the only two artist in NYC drawing in the subway with chalk at that time. We decided to do some collabo drawings in the subway and became friends after that. Some years down the line I was approached by a company that spied my studio drawings I did with Haring and asked if they could do a very limited tshirt run of a few of the collaborative drawings we did. The foundation agreed and part of the proceeds from the sale of those shirt went to the Aids Foundation.
4) Music, especially Hip Hop, had always been intertwined with your work as an artist, working with Jazzy Jay and Strong City Records, as well as other legendary hip-hop artists of the 80s and producing work for DJ and community leader Afrika Bambaataa. Right now, your art’s link with music is through your custom vinyl project.
Yes I’ve always been involved in music and art. Jazzy Jay gave me my very first commissioned work. He hired me to design his logo and after over 20+ years, he still uses that same design I created to represent him, so honored! Working with Jazzy Jay I was fortunate to be able to design for some of the most influential people in Hip Hop today. I have to credit Jazzy Jay for also commissioning me to design his limited edition faceplate for the TTM 57sl mixer for the Rane corporation. From there I was commissioned by Serato, which is a Kiwi company, to design for their first artist series picture disc control vinyl. The customized clear vinyl I’m currently working on came a little later. I just decided to paint up a Rane/Serato clear control vinyl for a friend and it just took off from there.
5) How can people purchase your customized vinyl?
All my work can be found on my web site: www.ericart.org and heaps of images of the customized control vinyl can be seen Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/ericorrfineart or just drop me an email at:firstname.lastname@example.org I’ll answer any question you have about my art and how to acquire some.
6) You also do a lot of work reaching out to youth and communities in New Zealand. What were the educational activities with the youth you’ve done here in NZ?
I’ve done art workshop from Auckland to Wanaka. Just trying to teach the youth positive ways to release that artistic energy.
7) NYC is an incredibly fast-paced and diverse city, and the art scene largely reflects that. It is a huge contrast to the isolated, small-country reality that we have here in good ol’ Aotearoa. What do you think is great about this reality and the part it plays on the art scene here, the negatives, and what you think our art scene needs more of?
The great thing is the slower pace gives you more time to process things. The only thing about being a small place is only a few people get to see the original work. Plus side to that is the Internet. I would love to see a 5pointz in Aoteroa. An entire city block, 10 story building just to let folks create. That would be awesome!!
8 ) What were the shows and events you’ve done here in NZ? What were the highlights for you?
Highlight’s would have been painting at SkyCity, that’s were I met some really nice people, and some really funny little children. SkyCity is the reason I met the love of my life there in Aotearoa. ELUVSM.
9) What’s next for Eric Orr in the near future? :)
Next is a June 2012 group show here in NYC. The custom vinyl will be on going and then making my way back to New Zealand. I have a few ideas for a show out there.