I recently sat down with street artist Pastey Whyte for an interview, but things things didn't exactly go as I planned. What transpired was less an interview and more a two hour conversation and education on art, street art and a passion for both. I didn't take any notes because our conversation unfolded so naturally and quickly, but I was able to record some of our conversation. In some cases I summarize and in others I am quoting Pastey directly.
We planned to meet at Pastey's house and studio and when I arrive I see the front door is open, the TV is on, but am not sure if I should knock, shout, call or honk the horn of my car. I'm in the hills above Cal State LA, not even quite sure what part of town this is and very unsure of who Pastey Whyte is. We've never met before and he agreed to meet over a series of emails and texts. I decided to text and a minute or so later, a friendly looking white man who I'm guessing is in his forties comes walking up from the side of the house that leads to the back yard. He extends his hand and invites me into his house. We make some small talk about our kids, We both have daughters, though his is a few years older than my oldest, but the pink scooter and few other items strewn in the front of the house and the living room gave that away while I was waiting.
Where are you from?
Upstate New York. Rochester. Went to college at SUNY, New Paltz, near Poughkeepsie. You know Poughkeepsie?
(I give a half affirmative nod and ask if he went to school for art or had formal training.)
I studied theater, set design, so we learned about design, but not really a formal art history or art training. I think that kind of training is really important though, so you can see the progressions in styles and understand where things were derived from or inspired. When I was living in New York City, I worked down in Tribeca. There was a gallery upstairs from where I worked and when they moved they tossed all of these old Sotheby's catalogs. I saw them do it and went in and dug them all out. I knew I wanted to be an artist at that point and I poured over those things constantly. I studied and studied them and would cover up the detail about the piece and try to identify everything by sight. You know the stuff in auction houses is from a lot of the same artists as in museums, but not the stuff everyone knows. That was my real art education. (Later as he was showing me around, he showed me a bookcase where he still has all of those catalogs)
Pastey's phone rings.
You know Cody Bayne? You should. Hold on, I have to take this, but make yourself at home. Look around.
I'm half-listening to Pastey's part of their conversation as I start looking around his living room, dining room and kitchen. They are talking about wood and supplies and Pastey is freely dispensing advice and offering to provide some of the needed supplies. I turn my attention to the walls around me to try to uncover something about this man Pastey, who I have known on Instagram for a few weeks and have known as Edsy for less than five minutes.
Adam & Eve. Self Portrait Winter 1994
The call ends and we make some more banter before I ask him what part of LA we are in. The house is up in the hills sandwiched between Downtown LA, Monterey Park, East LA and Montecito Heights. He tells me it is called University Hills now, but that it used to be called Metropolitan Hills. A long time ago, immigrants from all over the world would settle here on this eastern edge of Los Angeles and work in Downtown Los Angeles. It was the gateway from the east into the basin. All the streets have names that hint at the countries of origin of many of those early immigrants like O'Sullivan Drive, Seigneur Ave and Heidleman Rd. It's that same proximity to the city that he loves about this neighborhood and this house. He's not too far from Downtown LA or Pasadena, which he calls his Santa Monica (just without the ocean). The neighborhood still has a strong immigrant population but the German, English and Irish have been replaced by Hispanic and Asian immigrants. The views are spectacular and you can imagine a day when this hillside will be covered with new construction taking up multiple lots, the current mix of immigrants, gangsters and hipsters replaced with LA's noveau riche and mover & shakers.
The conversation turns back to his art and we walk towards an early city painting of his (pictured below) and he begins to talk more about his influences. He talks about Ed Pascke, Gladys Nillson, Jim Nutt and enlightens me about the Chicago Imagists. Next to his own early city picture is an original Roger Brown print that was a gift from Pastey's wife. He goes on about Roger Brown and how Brown influenced his city paintings. These artists spurred his interest in outsider art and the works of Howard Finster, Charles Yokum, Henry Darger, Bill Traylor and Lee Gody. He tells a funny story about another influence, Ellsworth Kelly and how he literally bumped into him at Kelly's retrospective at the Guggenheim in the late '90's.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door. 2003
We move from his living room down to his studio located behind and under the main house. The quick walk down the cracked concrete steps reveals more of the stunning views from the hill and a mass of houses lining the slopes below. I have to duck my head to avoid a few low hanging pipes as we enter the studio. The studio is roomy and there are stacks of old magazines, supplies and art splayed about in a sort of organized chaos.
Pastey gave me the lay of the in his studio and shared openly about his process and some of the techniques he uses like emulsion transfer, solvent transfer and showed me a stack of pasters that he was ready to put up, as well as his stencils and his originals that he uses to create his pasters.
Various pieces from 2014 show
Ice cream and Brylcreem (2014)
Surnames, corn palaces and sugar (in foreground with battery)
The conversation turned to street art and the LA scene and I asked him his opinion about the scene overall.
"As long as you're not a dick, you know, going out capping people, buffing people, jacking a sweet spot, people in the scene, at least the scene I am in, are generally really nice...and supportive.It's generally pretty good. We're artists, you now...I mean, there's some jealousy, you might envy someone's technique or their balls cause they made it into a show or a gallery you didn't make it into or want to be in, but it's probably because you didn't try or didn't have the right connections or whatever it is, you know, so there's that, but mostly I think people are nice, generally really nice."
Who are the people, at least in the LA scene, who you really...from a work stand point..that you really respect or admire?
"Smear. Smear is one of the original LA street guys and beyond some of his antics and his persona, he's the sweetest person you'll ever know, I mean he's really a great guy. It's just fun to hang out with him. On a work level, just people who put in work, you can't assault Teachr, like..it's the same thing he's really nice, he's super generous, he'll collab with anybody. Whenever I've spoken to him or met him he's just a great guy and you gotta respect that and he does really sweet work and he definitely puts his stuff up in really great places and he's willing to help anybody. Um, other people, you gotta admire Thrashbird for just his tenacity. I mean he is up everywhere and he's a good guy." (I commented about the crazy places I see Thrashird's stuff and we talked about how he does it...fearlessness, really good on stilts, a really big stick) "I think in some of those spots he'll come from the top, you know up above, and the bottom. That is not me, I'm a chubby white guy. I don't have a fear of heights, but I'm not going up there. You gotta respect him for that, I mean he is definitely out there and he has something to say. And the other person that I just kind of respect for their tenacity is Sickid, I mean, that guy, you're like dude, he's like 16. Love him or hate his stuff, you see it everywhere."
Before you were talking about finding a spot, so what makes a spot a good spot?
"Visibility, background and idea. So when you can get a spot that is highly visible...now it doesn't have to be a billboard...it could be...I don't know...when you drive down the street and let me say a few things, good spots, when you see a good spot, you see it. There's a building set back from another building, that little reveal. That's a great spot (makes a right angle with his hands) and you don't have to look around, it's right there. That's a good spot. Background, this, this yellow (pulls out a picture). Whenever I see blue, I see yellow. So like if I see blue, like a mailbox oh, my yellow rides like a bitch on that blue. That blue just makes the yellow look like POW! POW! POW! And then there is also idea, like why are you putting something in a certain place. What are you saying about that place. What are you saying about the other things around it. And to get all three of them together. That's what makes a really great spot. At least in LA. I would think about it differently if I was in NY or Chicago, where people are walking more."
The topic turned for the next five minutes or so to graffiti crews, street art hierarchy, Shepherd Fairey, commercialism of street art and then came back to spots. "There's nothing worse than the feeling of being out early in the morning, pasting something up in the dark, stepping back and being like 'yeah, when the sun comes up that's gonna fucking rock. it's gonna be beautiful.' You go home, sleep, you wait, maybe you come back the next day or in six hours to get your photo, cause that's really the game, to get your photo...and it's gone. You can see that someone has maliciously scraped it off and you know, your just like (exhales, shrugs shoulders, deflated) and it's not nice, you're bummed, it's not fun. However, on the other side, when you pick a spot and you put it there and they buff around your piece and leave it there, you are like 'I am the man!' It's like a total sign of approval. That's the best. In general if your piece stays up, I've had pieces ride for like a year of half a year. Those feelings are great. For me that's part of it. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat."
As our conversation wound down, Pastey pulled a few paint marker drawings out and "Blonde Splash" (below) a combination of aerosol and acrylic paint on paper and wood and gave them to me. I thanked him for his time and openness and told him I'd definitely come check out his show.
Stone Malone Gallery
7619 1/2 Melrose
Saturday, January 24 7 pm to 12 am